As Colorado mops up from the flood, consumers need to be on guard against opportunistic scam artists masquerading as home-improvement contractors, utility representatives and agents for charities.
Here's advice from the Colorado State Attorney General's consumer protection division, and from Neal Buccino of the New Jersey Consumer Affairs division, which handled thousands of fraud complaints in the wake of flooding and damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
Be wary of door-to-door solicitations. A representative of Xcel Energy, which serves the areas most affected by the torrential floods, noted that Xcel workers rarely contact clients. If solicitors represent themselves as Xcel agents, call 800-895-4999 to verify.
Before hiring a contractor to repair flood damage, get at least three written estimates from contractors, and verify that those contractors carry liability insurance and are registered with the state of Colorado.
Review contracts before signing. Home-improvement contracts must disclose the legal and business address of the contractor, along with a start and completion date, a description of work to be done, and a total price. Make sure brand names of principal products and materials are listed in the contract, and that all warranties and guarantees are in writing.
Never do business with anyone who has a post office box number instead of a street address.
Never give your credit card or financial information to someone who contacts you over the phone or through the Internet.
Never pay more than one-third of a quoted home-improvement fee up front. Legitimate repair businesses expect a partial payment upon signing a contract, then another installment halfway through the project, and the rest upon completion. Contracts for home improvements over $500 must be in writing.
Before hiring a contractor to do electrical work, plumbing or other work, check with the state Department of Regulatory Agencies to make sure that the contractor is registered and licensed.
Double-check: Legitimate charities and home improvement contractors must be registered with the Colorado Secretary of State.
Before donating to a charity, verify that the organization is registered in the state database, which also lists suspended charities, solicitors and fundraising agents.
Before hiring a contractor, ask for the business corporate identification number, and make sure it matches with the number on the Secretary of State registration list
Flooded? Don't get hung out to dry, too. Before hiring a contractor or donating to a charity, make sure you're dealing with a legitimate agency by verifying that organization through a state database.
Claire Martin: 303-954-1477, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/byclairemartin