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Scam Artists Target Victims of Disasters

By    |   Friday, 31 August 2007 09:44 AM

This week is the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which just might be the worst natural disaster to hit the United States in recorded history. Even after two years, we are now just starting to fully comprehend the enormity of this tragedy.

After almost every disaster, both man-made and natural, there will be, unfortunately, countless crooks and bunco-artists looking to take advantage of suffering homeowners and other good folks by conning them with shoddy home repairs (or by taking upfront money and doing nothing at all).

In 2005 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a hurricane scam alert which still today offers good guidance to victims of various tragedies.

According to the FBI, beware of the home repair rip-off artists who follow in the wake of these tropical storms.

Home repair crooks swoop in after hurricanes, not to mention other natural disasters, and prey on homeowners desperate to get their lives back to normal. These criminals know that many legitimate companies are booked for months after major disasters and that some frustrated homeowners won't do their homework before signing on the dotted line.

How do these crooks operate? Consider these scenarios:

  • Your roof is damaged by a hurricane. A "contractor" knocks on your door and offers to fix it for a drastically discounted price. He says he has some materials left over from other work he did in the neighborhood. He'll give you the low-ball price — if you sign the papers today.

  • People claiming to be local utility company workers or building or health inspectors appear at your door unannounced and point out "problems" such as shoddy roofing, a cracked driveway, or dangerous electrical wiring. They say you're in violation of some regulation and give you the name of someone who can fix the problem fast. Then that person overcharges, performs shoddy work, starts the job and then says it'll cost thousands more, or skips town with your hard earned cash before finishing.

    Sadly, home repair scams cost unsuspecting Americans billions of dollars a year. Crooks often target seniors, low-income families, and other innocent consumers.

    So how can you protect yourself? Here are some tips from the FBI:

  • Be wary of contractors who go door-to-door and aren't listed in the phonebook; who talk very fast and pressure you to sign papers immediately; who offer unbelievably long guarantees; who ask you to pay the entire job up-front and accept only cash; or who suggest you borrow money from lenders they know.

  • Ask trusted friends or insurance agents to recommend a contractor, and then check the firm's record with your local consumer organization or state attorney general.

  • Deal only with contractors who are licensed, bonded, and insured.

  • Get all estimates, guarantees, and work dates in writing.

  • Make sure you get several estimates, and don't necessarily choose the lowest bidder.

    For more information, log on to www.fbi.gov.

    My Final Thoughts: Not only do these principles apply to hurricane damages, but to repairs needed because of other natural disasters such as tornados, wildfires and floods. As the FBI says: “ Be crime-smart when it comes to home repair work. Ask lots of questions, do your homework, and remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

    Note: If you manufacture or distribute any security, safety, emergency preparedness, homeland defense or crime prevention related products, please send information on your product line for possible future reference in this column to: CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com.

    Copyright 2007 by Bruce Mandelblit

    “Staying Safe” with Bruce Mandelblit is a regular column for the readers of NewsMax.com and NewsMax.com Magazine.

    Bruce welcomes your thoughts. His email address is: CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com.

    Bruce is a nationally known security journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer.

    Bruce writes “Staying Safe,” a weekly syndicated column covering the topics of security, safety and crime prevention.

    Bruce was commissioned as a Kentucky colonel — the state’s highest honor — for his public service.

    This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.

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    This week is the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which just might be the worst natural disaster to hit the United States in recorded history.Even after two years, we are now just starting to fully comprehend the enormity of this tragedy.After almost every disaster,...
    Friday, 31 August 2007 09:44 AM
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