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Hernando authorities urge residents to be wary of storm scammers

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County authorities say they haven't yet seen the opportunistic scammers that typically follow major disasters.

But they're coming. Count on it.

"I would expect it," said Sgt. Jeff Kraft of Hernando County Sheriff's Office economic crimes division.

It could be days. Maybe weeks. Perhaps months.

They'll pose as roofers, tree cutters, driveway repair people — any services a disaster-struck area might need.

"It's going to be what's visible," Kraft said. "Screen guy. Pool guy. Whatever. Whatever you can visibly see, that's their in."

They often target the elderly. They ask for money in advance and run. They don't finish jobs, jack up prices after they're done and browbeat residents into paying.

But there are a number of basic steps people can take to protect themselves after a storm, Kraft said. The tips are also good advice for the rest of the year.

The best suggestion is to get a second, third or even fourth opinion before committing to a project, he said.

"Absolutely, a second opinion could save them a huge amount of headache," Kraft said.

Ask for references and check each one.

• Only deal with licensed and insured contractors. To check someone's license, visit MyFloridaLicense.com or call (850) 487-1395. To verify valid insurance, ask for their insurance certificate and call the company to confirm.

• Pay after the work is finished or as the work progresses. Be wary of contractors who ask for advance payment in full. Kraft says contractors who ask for more than 10 percent up front are a red flag.

Also, avoid paying cash and be cautious of writing checks made payable to individuals, especially when dealing with a company, according to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

• Get a written contract that details the work and hold on to proof of payment for the work. In the contract, make sure there is a clause stating the bill cannot fluctuate by more than a certain amount without approval from the homeowner. That will prevent getting a dramatically inflated bill.

"That's a common scam," Kraft said.

• Don't trust contractors who claim that structural repairs or other extensive repairs do not require a permit. The contractor should pull the permit, not the homeowner.

"Almost all skilled labor, you probably need a license," he said.

• Require contractors to provide a final affidavit saying all subcontracts and suppliers used on the job have been paid in full.

•Ensure that the contractor has had the work inspected by the county or city building department before final payments are made.

Florida officials also urged residents to be careful as recovery efforts begin across the state.

They said state and federal damage assessment teams may ask about damage and insurance, but do not require any personally identifiable information, such as a Social Security number.

Residents concerned about someone misrepresenting themselves should call the local emergency management office or local authorities.

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432

Suspect a scammer?

Anyone who suspects unlicensed activity can notify the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

The department can be reached toll-free at 1-866-532-1440, by e-mail at ULA@dbpr.state.fl.us or by posting a picture with the address where the work is being performed to the Department's Facebook or Twitter pages.

Hernando emergency management officials can be reached at (352) 754-4083.

Hernando authorities urge residents to be wary of storm scammers 07/06/12 [Last modified: Friday, July 6, 2012 6:21pm]
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