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Beware of Dishonest Post-Disaster Costs
By Jamie Vickers
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Damage caused by Hurricane Georges could result in South Mississippi residents becoming victims of unethical or unqualified repairers or businesses.
Although judgement is often impaired during times of emergency, there are several ways consumers can avoid fraud.
"It's against the law for businesses to overcharge, and this type of emergency is a prime opportunity for that," said Jan Lukens, Extension consumer management specialist at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi. "If that does happen, it should be reported to the Attorney General's office."
The Better Business Bureau and Attorney General's consumer affairs division are reference tools that consumers may use. One of their concerns is contractors who are not licensed or properly bonded. These agencies recommend getting information on the company before money is exchanged. Request references and phone numbers of any contractor.
Insurance companies should be able to recommend contractors. It is also wise to use contractors that are well known within the community.
Contractors should carry proof of general liability and workers' compensation insurance in case someone is hurt on the job. The homeowner could be liable if the contractor has no insurance.
Do not pay for services until the work is completed satisfactorily. Make payments by check or credit card.
"High pressure persuasion is often used by fraudulent contractors," Lukens said. "Think carefully before you decide on a contractor. Don't be talked into things you don't need."
A written contract is imperative. The contract should include the name, address and phone number of the contractor; a written description of all the work to be done and the quality of the materials to be used; and a bid based on the job, not the unit (hour, gallon, board).
A price breakdown for labor and materials, start up and completion dates, and a written statement reiterating any oral promises made by the representative, including warranties, should also be in the contract. Always review the contract carefully before signing it.