According to the BBB Risk Index, home improvement scams are the most risky scam to consumers.
In 2016, 53% of scam victims reported losing money, and the median loss was $1,425. Unfortunately, consumers in fire-stricken zones may see a surge in “storm chasers” looking to make money off of their misfortune. Consider it a red flag if: a worker shows up on your doorstep unannounced without identification; someone offers a “too good to be true” deal or uses high-pressure sales tactics; a worker claims they just finished a job down the street and have left-over materials; the contractor doesn’t have a permanent place of business; the worker claims to be FEMA-certified; or if anyone asks for personal information like bank account or Social Security numbers.
Visit bbb.org/homescam to learn more.
Check with your insurance.
As soon as you can, call your insurance provider and ask about policy coverage and specific filing requirements.
Take pictures of the damage, and make sure to save all receipts, including those for food, temporary lodging, or other expenses that may be covered under your policy.
Take your time.
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 proactive in selecting a business and not reactive to sales solicitations. Make temporary repairs if necessary. Don't rush into decisions and don't automatically hire the first contractor who comes along.
How to find a business.
Visit bbb.org to find a trustworthy contractor near you. A contractor’s BBB Business Profile includes company information, a BBB rating, a complaint history, and reviews from past customers. Look for a contractor that specializes in the work you need to be done – whether it be smoke damage, rebuilding, or debris removal. Take time to shop around and get three estimates based on the same specifications and materials. It’s also important to ask for, and check, references. https://www.bbb.org/en/us
Make sure they’re licensed.
According to the Contractors State License Board (CSLB), “it is a felony to contract without a license in a declared disaster area”.
You can easily verify licenses at www.cslb.ca.gov. To become licensed, a contractor must pass two licensing exams, verify at least four years of journey-level experience, carry a license bond, and pass a criminal background check”. CSLB licenses contractors in 43 different classifications, so verify that the contractor holds a license for the work you are having done. Ask for proof of insurance as well.
Get it in writing.
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. The more details, the better! 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 should be given to you when you sign. Monitor the progress of the project and keep a paper trail of all documents.
Don’t pay in full before work starts.
Never pay full price in advance and don’t be pressured to pay cash. Establish a payment schedule. Do not make a final payment until you are satisfied with the completed work. CSLB advises that you pay no more than ten percent down or $1,000 – whichever is less. Don’t let the payments get ahead of the work.
What to do if you have a problem.
If you’re having issues with your contractor and, despite your efforts, they can’t be fixed, you have resources. File a complaint with your BBB at bbb.org/complain. It’s also wise to file a complaint with CSLB.
Please visit the Ventura County Recovers Home Page for more resources, including recent articles, information on financial assistance, and registering to receive recovery notifications.