St. Louis, Mo., June 3, 2013 - After tornadoes and severe storms caused extensive damage in Missouri and Illinois Friday night, the Consumer Fraud Task Force is warning homeowners to be on guard against unscrupulous roofing and contracting firms, who can be quick to collect insurance payments but then do little, if any, work.
Despite increasing public awareness and the best efforts of law enforcement, consumers nationwide continue to fall victim to unethical contractors, the Task Force says. The Task Force suggests that consumers protect themselves by researching any contracting business thoroughly before signing a contract.
Typical consumer complaints involve shoddy or incomplete work, lengthy delays, difficulty communicating with the company, an unwillingness to honor warranties and issues with billing.
In recent months, local and state law enforcement officials in Missouri and Illinois have taken action against several roofing contractors who allegedly reneged on promised repairs:
- In March, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed suit against All Seasons Contracting of St. Louis County, alleging violations of Missouri’s Merchandising Practices Act and violations of no-call laws. That action came just months after Koster’s office filed charges against two Missourians, accusing them of deceptive business practices and theft in connection with a home repair scheme targeting Joplin tornado victims.
- In May, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued Chicago-area “storm chaser” Perfect Restorations for failing to complete contracted projects and failing to pay its supplier. When the supplier was not paid, thousands of dollars in liens were placed on customers’ homes.
- In the past year, local prosecutors have charged several contractors in connection with unfinished storm repair projects.
The Task Force warns that out-of-state roofers often descend on an area after a particularly destructive event, like Friday’s storms or the April 2012 hailstorm in the St. Louis area. In many cases, these companies send sales representatives door-to-door through damaged neighborhoods, offering to work with insurance companies to get roofs repaired for free or for a nominal cost.
Alarm bells should go off anytime a homeowner is approached by a stranger claiming he or she can get your roof replaced for nothing or next to nothing, the Task Force says.
The Task Force offers the following tips to consumers looking to hire a roofing contractor to repair storm damage:
- Before signing any agreement, check with your insurance company and read your policy carefully to determine the extent of your coverage. In many instances, your insurer already has relationships with well established, reputable companies.
- Know who you are dealing with. Find out where the company is headquartered and how long it has been doing business in your community. Does the company have an established office in your area or simply a postal box? Watch for out-of-state phone numbers and license plates.
- Find out whether the contractor is bonded and insured against accidents or issues with workmanship. Ask to see copies of this paperwork. If a company is soliciting business door-to-door, does it have a legitimate soliciting permit? If you are unsure, call your local government officials to find out.
- Ask the company for references and call those property owners. Ask them whether the jobs were performed as agreed and if they were satisfied with the results.
- Ask for a written contract and read it to ensure that everything mentioned by the salesperson is included. Make sure it includes all details of the work as well as when and how payments are to be made and when work will be completed.
- Find out if there is a cancellation penalty if you terminate the contract before the work begins.
- Beware of any company that suggests you do not have to pay your insurance deductible. Such a claim is illegal in many states, including Missouri and Illinois.
- Get more than one estimate.
- Do not pay the entire amount in advance. Hold back a portion of the payment until all work is completed to your satisfaction. In many instances, materials represent about one third of the total cost to the contractor. It is reasonable for the contractor to secure their interest in the materials upfront, but withholding payment beyond this puts you in a better position to ensure the work is completed properly and on time.
- Contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB) for a BBB Business Review by calling 314-645-3300 or by going to www.bbb.org.
The Task Force is a coalition of local, state and federal government agencies and nonprofit business and consumer groups in Missouri and Illinois that work together to protect consumer and donor rights and guard against fraud.
The group has tackled predatory payday loan offers, tax scams, timeshare reselling fraud, credit repair and foreclosure scams, bogus sweepstakes, Internet sweetheart scams, home remodeling and a variety of other issues.
Contacts (News Media Only): Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-0606, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Chris Thetford, Vice President-Communications, 314-584-6743 or 314-681-4719 (cell), email@example.com