Avoid tornado damage mitigation fraud and scammers

Georgia’s Attorney General Christopher Carr has issued several press releases in the wake of last week's severe storms and tornados, warning homeowners to be on the lookout for home repair scammers.

A typical home repair scammer, according to Carr, are companies or individuals who will try to exploit last weeks storms by asking for up-front payments for home repairs and then disappear without doing the work.


In some cases, scammers may charge outrageous prices, charge for unnecessary repairs, or do sub-standard work, Carr stated.


“Storm victims are often more vulnerable to home repair fraud because they may be so desperate to get their lives back to normal that they don’t question the costs they’re quoted or thoroughly check out the person they’re hiring,” Carr stated. “Our Office encourages those affected by storm damage to be extra vigilant and do their homework before hiring a contractor.”

Georgia residents seeking contractors to work on tornado mitigation, or any other work, should always request to see an individual or company's Certificate of Insurance.


An Georgia certificate of insurance is a document that's standard in the contracting business. It provides evidence that the contractor has insurance coverage and includes the type of coverage and the limits of the policy. It also lists the dates that the policy is in effect.


Property owners should ask for this certificate prior to allowing contractors to work on their properties when hiring contractors, landscapers and others. The reason for this is that:


  • It prevents you from taking on risks involved in hiring a company only to find out that the company or its subcontractors have improper insurance or none at all. This protects you from scenarios such as claims that arise if a neighbor's lawn, shrubs, or trees become damaged.

  • It ensures that you are not the responsible party if a contractor is injured while working on property you own.

  • It provides coverage if the contractor's work is shoddy or incomplete.


What to Look for When Examining a GA Certificate of Insurance

The first thing to remember when looking at a Georgia certificate of insurance is to remember that it is that the certificate may not be valid. Forged or false certificates are not unheard of, and the contractor may have allowed the insurance to lapse after purchasing a policy. Best practice dictates requesting the Georgia certificate of insurance from the contractor's insurance company in lieu of taking the contractor at his word and assuming the validity of the certificate.


When reviewing a Georgia certificate of insurance, look at:

  • The name on the certificate. It should match the name of the person or the company that you hire.

  • The coverage dates. Make sure the policy is not set to expire prior to the anticipated completion date for the job. If the certificate expires during a job, request a new one.

  • The limits on the policy and coverage type. The certificate should provide proof of general liability that protects against damage and worker's comp insurance that pays out if the person is injured while working. The limits of the policy should be sufficient to protect you from personal liability in the event of a major event.

  • In addition, you should ask to be named as an additional insured during the span of the project. By having another entity add your business as an additional insured that sub contractor is protecting you against their potential negligence.


The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division offers the following tips to those who are in need of home repair work or tree-removal services:


  • Avoid door-to-door offers for home repair work. Instead, ask friends and neighbors for referrals.

  • Steer clear of any contractor who asks for full payment up-front, only accepts payment in cash, or who refuses to provide you with a written contract.

  • Ask contractors for three references of customers who had projects similar to yours and check them out.

  • Get written bids from at least three contractors. Be skeptical if the bid is too low. Cheaper is not necessarily better.

  • Always insist on a contract for work to be performed, with all guarantees, warranties and promises in writing. Agree on start and completion dates and have them written into the contract.

  • Never pay for the entire project before the work begins. Consider paying no more than one-third of the total cost as a down payment, with remaining payments tied to completion of specified amounts of work, and the final payment not due until the job is completed.

  • Be skeptical of any contractor that offers to pay your insurance deductible or offers other no-cost incentives, as these can be signs of fraud. You should always talk to your insurance company before committing to any repairs or even allowing a roofer to inspect your roof for any damage.

  • Check with the Better Business Bureau(bbb.org) to if there are any complaints against the business.

  • Make sure that the tree removal has a valid arborist license by visiting the International Society of Arboriculture’s website at www.isa-arbor.com.

  • Make sure that general contractors, electricians, plumbers and heating and air conditioning contractors are licensed by going to the Secretary of State’s website at sos.georgia.gov


Certain specialty occupations such as roofers, tree removal services, painters, drywall contractors and repair handymen are not required to be licensed by the state.


If you think that you may have been the victim of home repair fraud, please contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division by visiting consumer.ga.gov or by calling 404-651-8600 or 1-800-869-1123 (toll-free in Georgia, outside of the metro Atlanta calling area).


FYI

ADDITIONAL TIPS

  • Do your research. Contact the A.G.’s Consumer Protection Division or the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) to see if they have complaints against the company. Ask for several local references and make sure to follow through on checking them. Look online at reviews of their work.

  • Ask how the job will be done and if they will perform the work according to industry standards. For tree removal services, pay attention to the “lingo” such as “topping a tree,” “lion’s-tailing” or “using climbing spikes to prune a tree.” Sometimes these techniques will be presented as a way to save money by removing more of the tree at one time; however, these practices can injure or kill trees, and trees pruned by one of these methods usually requires more expensive restoration work in the future in order to save it.

  • Ask about post-job clean up and debris removal. Before the job is started, ask if the company will remove the tree, damaged roof, or other items from your property as well. If you don’t, it could lead to you having to also pay for debris removal. It’s also a good idea to check with your local city permitting office and homeowners’ association (if there is one) to find out what paperwork and local permits need to be obtained before starting work.

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