Entries in Contractors (2)


What You Should Know Before Donating to a Disaster Charity or Paying a Contractor

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Department of Justice has warned of the potential for disaster fraud in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, which ravaged millions of homes and businesses along the Atlantic Coast, and as of Friday morning, had left more than 3.6 million people in 11 states without power.

Suspected fraudulent activity relating to storm relief efforts should be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud's toll-free hot line at 866-720-5721, which is available 24-hours a day, seven-days a week .

Located in Baton Rouge, La., the fraud center was established by the Justice Department in the fall of 2005 following Hurricane Katrina. Its task force has prosecuted 1,439 individuals throughout the country related to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, according to the center. Those prosecutions included charity scams, government and private-sector benefit fraud, identity theft, contract and procurement fraud and public corruption.

The Federal Trade Commission has stepped in too with help on how home and business owners who need to hire contractors can avoid scammers.

First, said the FTC, ask for copies of a contractor's general liability and worker's compensation insurance. Homeowners are advised to check the contractor's identification and references.

"Deal with reputable people in your community," the FTC advises.

Next, if a down payment is required, pay only the minimum.

If you suspect a contractor is committing fraud, contact local law enforcement authorities and the Better Business Bureau.

The FTC offers the following tips for donating to charities:

1. Donate only to charities you know and trust.

Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight. Conduct due diligence on a charity. One way is to contact the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance at
2. Ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser.

The FTC advises that consumers ask fundraisers who they work for, and what percentage of a donation goes to the charity and what percentage to the fundraiser. "If you don't get a clear answer, or if you don't like the answer you get, consider donating to a different organization," the FTC states.

3. Do not give out personal or financial information.

Your personal information includes your credit card or bank account number. The FTC says don't give that out unless you know the charity is reputable.

4. Never send cash.

If you give in cash, you won't know for sure if the organization will ever receive your donation, nor will you have a record for tax purposes.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


How to Spot an Unlicensed Contractor

Steve Cole/DigitalVision(NEW YORK) -- The winds died down a week ago. And now Hurricane Irene's floodwaters are receding too. What's left is a big fat item on your "to do" list that you didn't cause. Make the wrong choice as you scramble to get repairs completed and you could make a bad situation worse.

Did you know you could be arrested for hiring an unlicensed contractor? It's a worst-case scenario, but it's true. In states that require licensing, hiring an unlicensed contractor is illegal.

Did you know an unlicensed contractor who gets hurt on your property could sue you -- and win? Unlicensed contractors are unlikely to carry proper insurance, so it has happened.

These are the extremes. But even the average experience with an unlicensed contractor can be devastating.

Licenses are generally required for any work that affects the structural or electrical integrity of the building. The contractor must be licensed in the state where the work is to be done.

If an unlicensed contractor nails you, you have next to no recourse. There's no license that the state can yank to threaten his livelihood. If you complain about him, he'll just change the name he does business under.

You can't tap into his insurance policy because he doesn't have one. Even suing an unlicensed contractor -- and winning -- is often futile, because unlicensed contractors don't have deep pockets.

Know the signs:

1. Unlicensed contractors often go door to door claiming they "just finished a job down the street."

2. They may rush you and say if you act now, you'll get a special price.

3. Unlicensed contractors either neglect to pull construction permits or they ask you to do it for them. If you do, you are assuming liability for the project, including their mistakes.

4. Some states require contractors to list their license number on their vehicles, their estimates, their websites and their advertising. If a contractor has not done that, it may be a bad sign.

5. If you see a license number in an ad, and it has a different number of letters, numerals and digits than all the other ads, it may be a fake license number.

6. Be wary if a contractor provides only a P.O. box or pager number. That may mean he doesn't have roots in the community and plans to move on as soon as people start to complain.

7. Unlicensed contractors often ask for a lot of money up front. Try not to pay any money in advance. If you must, keep the amount minimal.

Do your homework:

1. Find out what the licensing requirements are for contractors in your state. Also check with your county. If you live in an area where contractors do not have to be licensed, you're going to have to be extra vigilant about who you hire.

2. Try to find your contractor through word of mouth. A satisfied friend or neighbor is a much better source than a free newspaper.

3. Ask to see the contractor's actual paper license. Unlicensed contractors often put fake license numbers in their advertisements.

4. Get the contractor's full name, company name and license number and double check all three with the county and state departments that license contractors.

5. Also ask those departments if the contractor has a history of complaints.

6. Don't be fooled by "occupancy permits" or business licenses. These pieces of paper are worthless to you. Any business owner can get one. Hint: ask the contractor if he had to take a test to get his license. He should have.

7. If the contractor is licensed in another state, but not the one where the work is to be done, that's no protection. Some states do have reciprocal agreements, where a contractor with a license in one state can be "fast tracked" to get a license in another. Until he goes through that process, don't do business with him.

8. Also make sure the contractor is licensed to perform the type of work that you need. A licensed electrician cannot do plumbing work, for example.

9. If you hire a general contractor, make sure the specialists he hires -- like plumbers and electricians -- are licensed too.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio