Watch for scammers in DeKalb

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By Kenny Mitchell

Publisher

Following Sunday night’s devastating storm in DeKalb, the Tribune has received several calls about roofers and construction companies coming into town from out of state. A trip through town will show you signs for construction and roofers from outside of the area, even outside of the state.  In an effort to safeguard against scammers and fraudulent activity, we would like to offer some tips to local homeowners.

It is really very simple. Never pay for a repair job in full before the work is done and do not pay in cash. Ask for credentials and references and before you hire anybody, talk to your insurance company.

In the case of DeKalb, the answer to protect yourself against scammers could be even more simple. Use local contractors.

DeKalb is home to several contractors. These are people that live here, work here, go to church here, and people that you probably know. Use them. You know they are reputable and they are not going to cheat you or leave town before the work is completed.

There is TSSC Enterprises operated by Troy Crouch and Carl Wyckoff. There is Crouch Roofing owned by Kenneth Crouch and Iconic Construction owned by George Rich. Bill Cherry and Sons can do dozer work if you need it. Bowie County Equipment has a variety of equipment that can be used for removing trees and debris from the storm. Phillips Forest Products has lumber if you are doing the work yourself. And there are many others in the area like  Branson Plumbing, Assurance Air and Hodgson Heat and Air and Randle Cherry does backhoe work.

There are many more businesses that do the work needed that have Bowie County addresses and connections. “Shopping” local is always a safe bet.

Following is information from the Texas Attorney General’s Office with specific tips on how to avoid getting ripped off and what to do if you have already been a victim.

Tips to Avoid Fraud in Aftermath of Disaster

A natural disaster leaves more than uprooted lives in its wake. It also pulls in an army of price gougers, fly-by-night door-to-door contractors, and bogus charities.

If you are the victim of a Home Repair Scam or Price Gouging, call the Office of the Attorney General Toll-Free at 1-800-252-8011

Price Gouging

Some businesses raise their prices excessively on essential goods and services like drinking water, ice, groceries, fuel, towing, and car and home repairs. Charging excessive prices for necessities in an officially recognized disaster area can constitute price gouging.

Under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, price gouging is illegal, and the Office of the Attorney General has authority to prosecute any business that engages in price gouging after a disaster has been declared by the governor. The attorney general has issued stern warnings about price gouging to businesses in times of disaster, but you should still be on your guard.

If you feel that you are being unfairly charged for goods or services such as drinking water, food, towing, or any other necessity, raise the issue of price gouging with the provider. Speak to them respectfully but be frank. If you are unable to resolve the matter, file a complaint with our office.

 

Door-to-Door Repair

After natural disasters, door-to-door salespeople flock to some neighborhoods offering clean up and repair services. While many of these people are honest and reputable, some are not.

Protect yourself and your wallet from unscrupulous operators. If you are insured, call your insurance adjuster and have them make an estimate of the damage and probable repair cost. This will give you a benchmark estimate, prepared by a professional, when you negotiate with contractors.

If someone does come to your door and offers to do repairs, we suggest that you do the following:

  • Get more than one estimate. Don't be pushed into signing a contract right away. Take your time.
  • Check the contractor out with the Better Business Bureau. Ask if there are any complaints about the company.
  • Get references from past customers and check them.
  • Get the salesperson's license plate number.
  • Avoid out-of-town businesses. If the repair job turns out to be substandard, this can make correcting the problem or getting your money back more difficult.
  • Get everything in writing and keep a copy of all documents. The total cost, work to be done, schedule, payment terms, and other expectations should be written in specific detail. A notice of cancellation - giving you the right to change your mind within three business days - must be included if the transaction occurs at your home.
  • Do not sign a contract with blanks. Unscrupulous salespeople could enter unacceptable terms later.
  • Ask for proof of insurance. Make sure that the contractor has disability and workers' compensation insurance. If the contractor is not insured, you could be liable for accidents on your property.
  • Never get too far ahead on the payments. Arrange for an independent agent (insurance adjuster or real estate inspector) to inspect the completed work before you make full payment. If you pay too much up front, the contractor has little incentive to return and finish the job.
  • Find out in writing if the contractor or business will place a lien, security interest or mortgage on your property.
  • Ask for guarantees in writing. If the contractor provides guarantees, they should be written into the contract, clearly stating what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee (the dealer, the contractor, or the manufacturer), and how long the guarantee is valid.
  • Don't sign completion papers or make final payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction. A reputable contractor will not threaten you or pressure you to sign if the job is not finished properly.

In summary, be cautious and take your time.

Be especially suspicious of door-to-door salespeople who make "low-ball" estimates, refuse to leave a contract overnight so you have time to review it, or try to sell their services to you by playing on your emotions.

 

Charities

In the wake of a natural disaster you may want to assist by giving to a charity that provides assistance to victims. We commend your generosity, but urge you to make sure your donations go to legitimate organizations.

It is wise to give only to charities you are already familiar with. Most reputable organizations do not directly solicit donations from individual consumers by telephone, email or door-to-door visits. Do not use links embedded in unsolicited emails to access an organization's website.

The following resources can help you research charities:

FIVE HOOKS: Tell-Tale Signs of a Scam

THEY contacted YOU. Think about it. If you look up a business and call to make an order, you know who is on the other end of the deal. With a con artist, all you know is who that person says he or she is. You are already at a huge disadvantage.

They dangle BAIT in front of you. It is almost always a large sum of money, like a prize or an easy loan, or a large income. It sounds so easy! But we all know that people don't give away large sums of money so easily, or pay large incomes for nothing. Only in daydreams.

They want your PERSONAL INFORMATION. Anytime someone tries to get your bank account number, Social Security Number, or other sensitive information, you should automatically be on red alert. Don't do it.

First, YOU have to pay THEM. Don't be blinded by the promise of a large sum of money in the future. If they are asking you to give them money first, back off. It is illegal for someone to require up-front payment before funding a loan or paying out a sweepstakes prize. And real employers don't generally ask new hires to shell out money.

You have to WIRE or AIRBORNE money instead of MAILING it. This is your last warning: if you are on the brink of wiring somebody money in order to get a prize or a loan, an inheritance or any other large sum of money, STOP! It's a scam, and they are trying to avoid the stiff penalties for mail fraud. You are about to be robbed.

By mail, by phone or face to face, con artists dangle baited hooks in front of honest people every day of the week. It usually begins with an unsolicited contact from a company, individual or organization you never heard of. You do not know who the caller really is. Real lotteries don't call you to say you've won. You don't get grants without applying for them. You don't get easy loans if you have bad credit. Real money is hard to get. It doesn't just come to you. But there are people who would like to take whatever money you have to lose. Don't get hooked!

Again, if you are the victim of a Home Repair Scam or Price Gouging, call the Office of the Attorney General Toll-Free at 1-800-252-8011

 

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