Fraudulent Contractors Now Targeting Victims of Wildfires, Other Disasters

“They came off as very caring and sincere… like they were really trying to help us,” they said, “We had no idea we’d end up in a nightmare.”

This was what a couple had to say about their recent ordeal with a contractor they hired to repair their home after a major hailstorm. The couple, who asked not to be identified by name, vividly detailed their experience.

“They were apparently canvassing the neighborhood,” said the man whom we will call David. “They were in a nice pickup with signs and everything,” he said. “The man we spoke with was well-dressed and extremely friendly… very professional.” As David continues to tell the story it becomes apparent that these men had honed their skills to a fine art. They provided an effect that was visually palatable along with a professional bearing that made the unsuspecting couple feel at ease.

David went on to describe how the man offered to do a no-obligation inspection and free estimate of their roof, should any damage be found. After David agreed, the man signaled for the other man near the truck to go up and take a look. The inspection found that they did have some roof damage. “The whole thing was very professional,” reiterates David.

The two men momentarily excused themselves to seemingly confer with each other. After a brief exchange the man returned with a business card and a written estimate which he handed to David. David, who by no means was a naive person, thanked the man and said he would be getting other estimates and would contact them if he decided to use them.

Subsequently David chose to use the company to do the repairs. This is when things took a turn for the worse.

Though the bid was substantially lower than the others, this company required a significantly larger deposit to begin work. It was explained that the higher deposit would “lock” them in at that price.

David and his wife paid the man the upfront deposit in cash. The man wrote them a receipt for the money and never returned to do the work. Calls went unanswered and eventually the phone numbers no longer worked. David and his wife had become victims of contractor fraud.

Contractor fraud is an ongoing problem that plagues consumers and insurance companies alike. It is especially prevalent in the aftermath of natural disasters such as the recent severe hailstorm in Colorado Springs, along with the Waldo Canyon fire and other fires that affected portions of Colorado and other states.

Chris Conner, Senior Communications Consultant with Allstate Insurance Company, offered some sound advice to the many people affected by the wildfires and those whose homes may have been damaged by recent storm activity.

“First and foremost, use your best judgement when hiring a contractor,” said Conner. “Obviously folks are going to be in a potentially vulnerable emotional state, their homes may be damaged, they may have lost some heirlooms. Any number of factors that could contribute to making a rash decision about who to hire,” he said.

Despite the temptation to want the repairs done immediately, Conner says you should take your time and use due diligence when deciding which company to use when repairing or rebuilding your home.

Conner advised to always request the contractor’s credentials (whether they are locally licensed and bonded) in writing and conduct a thorough check of their company with your local Better Business Bureau and/or your home builders association and any other licensing and certification agencies that are available. “In some cases, even the most reputable of contractors will ask for some payment up front,” Conner said, “If they do, a fair amount is generally 20 percent of the total estimate. Anything exceeding that, you might want to question,” he said. He also added you should always make sure you have an actual signed contract you can refer to. Make sure you read the contract completely and if there is anything you aren’t sure about, don’t hesitate to get legal consultation for clarification if you need to. Don’t simply take the contractor’s explanation unless you are comfortable enough with their reputation.

Conner also urges anyone to report any suspicious activity to authorities. “If you see someone going door-to-door, or if they have out-of-state plates on their vehicle this is a potential red flag,” he said.

Although these are solid tips on how to avoid being taken in by these scammers, nothing beats your own common sense. Remember, these con artists prey on your potentially vulnerable emotional state in an attempt to win your confidence. They will slyly pick you for information to use against you at a later time and almost always, they will try to create within you a sense of urgency to prevent you from looking at the situation objectively.

These people are usually professional swindlers with much experience plying their trade. If you come into contact with someone you believe may be targeting you or someone you know, get as much information as you can, i.e. make and model of vehicle and license plate number and report your suspicions to local authorities immediately.

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