Earthquake Disaster Tips
Don't be Victimized Twice
Natural disasters like fires and earthquakes can bring out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help others in need. Unfortunately, crisis also brings out persons who choose to take advantage of the victims says Lori Wilson, President & CEO of our local Better Business Bureau.
Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision.
Some of the most common "after-disaster" scams involve your auto, home and yard repairs or clean-up. Your BBB offers the following tips to people who suffer auto and property damage in the wake of a natural disaster:
BE CAUTIOUS IF ...
- A worker shows up on your doorstep to announce that your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage in your home, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it.
- Someone is offering to repair or rebuild your property with a deal that sounds too good to be true.
- A worker shows up on your doorstep and claims to have left-over materials from a job "down the street".
- A contractor doesn't have a permanent place of business.
- A worker claims to be FEMA certified - FEMA does not certify general contractors in any state.
- Someone contacts you to solicit personal information such as Social Security or bank account numbers.
Good Advice When You Need It ...
- Don't rush into decisions and don't automatically hire the first contractor who comes along.
- Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts, including those for food, temporary lodging, or other expenses that may be covered under your policy.
- Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Don't be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Be pro-active in selecting a business and not reactive to sales solicitations. Make temporary repairs if necessary.
- For major repairs, take time to shop around and get 3 estimates based on the same specifications and materials. Check out references, verify license with the Contractors State Licensing Board - www.cslb.ca.gov and read the company's BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org.
- Contractors working on a job--from debris removal to rebuilding--totaling $500 or more for labor and materials must be licensed by CSLB.
- Make sure you get a written contract from anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor. Be sure their name, address, license number and phone number along with a start and end date for the work are included in the contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety and don't sign a blank contract. A copy of the signed contract is to be given to you when you sign.
- Never pay in full in advance and do not pay cash. Establish a payment schedule. Do not make a final payment until you are satisfied with the completed work. CSLB rules require no more than 10 percent down or $1,000 - whichever is less when you sign a contract. Don't let the payments get ahead of the work.
- Monitor the progress of the project and keep a paper trail of all documents.
There are many licensed, trustworthy contractors that are local. For lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and BBB Business Reviews, visit www.bbb.org or call (510)844-2000.