As we learned from the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in 2017, this busy hurricane season Southwest Floridians need to be on their toes as door-to-door con artists, gypsies and travelers head into our communities looking to take advantage of unsuspecting homeowners. These thieves and shady characters especially like to prey on the elderly who might be unable to clear debris or perform repairs themselves after a storm. Some pose as home repair specialists but are simply con artists looking for easy access and easy money. For your safety, do NOT open your door, step outside or be distracted.
Florida seniors can protect themselves from becoming victims of home repair fraud by following these important tips:
*Before you agree to or sign any contract, have your lawyer review and explain the terms. You may contact the Senior Legal Helpline (1-888-895-7873) or the Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service (1-800-342-8011) for legal assistance.
*Make sure the contractor has a valid contractor’s license and insurance. An occupational license is NOT a construction license. The Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR) issues licenses and takes complaints of contractors (1-850-487-1395). You can also check with your local law enforcement agency and the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints or reports of fraud against the business.
*If you suspect unlicensed activity, contact the DBPR Unlicensed Activity Division (1-866-532-1440).
*Never fall for phone or door-to-door offers of free estimates, home inspections or “special deals”. Very few, if any, legitimate contractors do this, especially after a storm.
*Never pay cash! Never pay for unfinished work or jobs that have not been inspected. Paying by check or money order provides a written record. If a contractor wants money in advance, consider paying the material supplier directly.
*Always compare estimates carefully; it’s a good idea to get bids or estimates from at least 3 companies.
*Protect yourself from liens against your home. Make sure your contract states that the contractor will obtain notarized, written releases of lien from all subcontractors and suppliers BEFORE you will pay each payment.
*Never agree to get your own permits; that will make you directly responsible for everything.
*Never be pressured into making hasty decisions.
*Never let a stranger in your home and never accept an offer to take you to the bank to withdraw money for any reason. Keep all doors, including the garage door, closed and locked at all times.
*Don’t hesitate to IMMEDIATELY report unknown or suspicious people, activity, or vehicles to your local law enforcement agency.
Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation: (850) 487-1395
Florida Attorney General’s Office – Price Gouging Hotline: (866) 966-7226
Seniors vs. Crime Project: (800) 203-3099
Insurance Information: (800) 342-2762
Area Agency on Aging for Southwest Florida – Elder Helpline: (866) 413-5337
Elder Abuse Hotline: (800) 96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873)
Senior Legal Helpline: (888) 895-7873
A Public Service Announcement from the Area Agency on Aging for Southwest Florida, Inc., the state-designated disability and aging resource center for Charlotte, Collier, Desoto, Glades, Hendry, Lee and Sarasota counties funded in part by the State of Florida Department of Elder Affairs.