BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - The Louisiana Attorney General warns storm victims to be on the lookout for scams following Monday's severe storms that caused widespread power outages and damages.
"Unfortunately, scammers use this opportunity to take advantage of those citizens who are down on their luck," Buddy Caldwell said.
Caldwell advises citizens to be careful when selecting a tree removal service or home repair contractors. He adds it pays to take the time to do some research to ensure the person you have working on your home or business is qualified.
He offered the following tips to avoid contractor fraud:
• Get at least three bids. Be certain each contractor bids on exactly the same work. If one contractor bids on more work than others, make a note of it. All bids should be itemized and detailed.
• Know the contractor. Get the name of the contractor's insurer, and call the insurer to confirm they are indeed insured and for what amount. Always require that the contractor show you proof of insurance such as workman's compensation and general liability insurance. Find out the contractor's address and verify it. Ask for references and inspect work done for previous customers when possible. Make sure the contractor is licensed through The Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors. You can search registered contractors by visiting the board's website, www.lslbc.louisiana.gov.
• Do not agree to a large down payment. A reputable contractor will not normally require a large down payment. Where a down payment is required, it should not exceed 10 to 25 percent of the total price. Better yet, accompany the contractor to the building supply store and pay the store for the materials yourself. Have the materials delivered directly to your home or jobsite rather than the contractor's shop.
• Be specific. Specify in the contract a beginning and completion date, exact description of work to be done, total cost of job, exact schedule for payment and warranty or guarantee that can be expected. Have samples, model numbers, pictures or anything else that will show the contractor exactly what you want. If you don't specify the quality of materials in the contract, you are leaving it up to the contractor to decide what material will be used.
• Get a guarantee and a contract in writing. Any contractor not willing to guarantee his or her work is not someone with whom you should be doing business. Accept no verbal agreements. Any changes in the contract should be in writing and initialed by both parties. Keep a signed, legible copy of the contract in a safe place.
• Do not pay cash. Always pay by check or money order and keep a receipt. Write all checks to the company, not the individual worker. Make sure all subcontractors are paid to prevent a lien from being placed against your property.
• Do not sign a certificate of completion or make final payment until you are satisfied with all work performed. Save copies of all building material receipts so you can be sure you received goods and services for which you paid.
Caldwell says to report a case of suspected contractor fraud, citizens should contact their local law enforcement agency or district attorney. The Louisiana Licensing Board for Contractors at (800) 256-1392 will accept complaints. People can also call Attorney General Caldwell's Consumer Protection Division at (800) 351-4889.