Avoiding Ripoffs

Authored By: Legal Services Alabama LSC Funded

Information

What if someone says he is from the Department of Insurance or my insurance company and offers to speed up my claim if I pay him some money?

  • Beware of anyone who makes this kind of claim.
  • Ask this person's name and immediately report him to your insurance company or the Alabama Department of Insurance at 334-269-3550.

What if somebody else offers to help speed up my claim in exchange for some of my insurance benefits?

  • Call the Alabama Department of Insurance about this kind of person, too.
  • Consult a lawyer before signing any contract.

How can I keep from paying too much for repairs?

The Attorney General recognizes that home repair fraud is a serious problem in Alabama and is a particular threat during times of natural disaster. The Attorney General has made most of the following suggestions:

  • Find out as much as you can about the workers.
  • It is especially important to find out about people who come without you calling.
  • It is also important to check out people who come from out-of-town after a natural disaster.
  • Ask if the worker is bonded or insured. Ask to see proof.
  • Ask if the worker is licensed.
  • Regulations vary, but plumbers and electricians must be licensed by the state.
  • Contractors may need local licenses if they do major work.
  • To do home repairs costing over $10,000, contractors will need a home builder's license. You can go to the Alabama Home Builders Licensure Board website, http://www.hblb.state.al.us, to see if a contractor is licensed.
  • Contractors who do small odd jobs may not have to be licensed.
  • Ask if your job requires a permit.
  • Most construction and major home repairs need a permit from the county or city.
  • Do not let someone talk you into applying for the permit in your name. If they do not want to be known to local officials, they may be hiding from a bad reputation.
  • Get a written estimate, detailing the work to be done and setting a completion date.
  • Ask for references. Get names and addresses. Call the references. Consider going to see some of the work the contractor has done.
  • Avoid paying too much money up-front.
  • You should pay only a minimal amount, perhaps as much as one-fourth, to indicate good faith and ability to pay. If they tell you more money is needed in advance, be wary. They should have sound financial standing to pay for supplies or have good credit to make necessary purchases until you compensate them afterward.
  • Make sure you can contact the contractor. Be wary if they can only give you a beeper number or a Post Office box address. Businesses with established addresses are usually safer.
  • An Alabama state law signed September 13, 2004 prohibits "unconscionable pricing" of items for sale or rent whenever the Governor has declared an official state of emergency.
  • Businesses are prohibited from increasing the price of items for sale or rent by 25% or more above the average price charged in the same area withint the last 30 days.
  • Ask questions to find out if the price is in line with pre-disaster prices.

How can I find a good contractor?

  • First, beware of contractors or builders who go to door-to-door selling their services.
  • Be extra careful of someone not known in your community. Sometimes, someone will offer you a low price, saying he just did some work near you and has materials left over. Get the names of the people who hired him. Call the people who hired the contractor or builder and ask them if they were happy with the work done.
  • Deal only with licensed and insured contractors. Look into the work of any roofer, contractor or builder you are thinking of hiring. Get a list of recent pleased customers. Call them.
  • Ask friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, insurance agents or claims adjusters for recommendations. Also, call your Better Business Bureau to see if the contractor has any complaints filed against him.

What should I know before I sign a contract?

  • Do not let anyone rush you into signing a contract.
  • Get written estimates from at least three firms.
  • Ask any contractor if there is a charge for an estimate before letting him in your home.
  • Do not automatically choose the lowest bidder. First, see if the low bidder is going to do all you need done.
  • IMPORTANT: Get a copy of the final signed contract.

What is the best way to pay the contractor?

  • Beware of contractors who ask you to pay for the entire job before starting any work.
  • If a contractor says you have to make a down payment, it should not be more than one-third of the total price.
  • Do not pay cash. Pay only by check, money order or credit card.
  • Pay the final amount only after the work is finished and you are pleased.

What if the contractor says I should just make temporary repairs for now?

  • Beware of contractors who want you to spend a lot of money on temporary repairs.
  • Make sure you have enough money to finish permanent repairs.

What if I need a loan to pay the contractor?

  • Be careful about putting your home up as security for a home improvement loan. If you do not repay the loan as agreed, you could lose your home.
  • Have someone you trust read a contract before you sign it. If you get a loan to pay for the work, have someone you trust read these documents, too.

What if I think a contractor has cheated me?

  • Call the consumer division of the Attorney General's office. The Alabama Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline is Toll-Free 1-800-392-5658.
  • If you suspect fraud, waste, or abuse involving Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster assistance programs, you can make a confidential report to FEMA's Inspector General's Office. Call Toll-Free 1-800-323-8603.
  • You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Although the FTC cannot resolve individual problems for consumers, it can act against a company if it sees a pattern of possible law violations. Here are possible ways to contact the FTC:
    • FTC Consumer Reponse Center Toll-Free line: 1-877-382-4357
    • Internet (online complaint form) at www.ftc.gov.
    • Mailing address: Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580

The FTC publishes free brochures on many consumer issues. For a complete list of publications, write for "Best Sellers" to:

Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580

Where can I get more information?

  • You can go to the website for the Alabama Department of Insurance at www.aldoi.gov.
    • Information on the extension of a grace period by the Alabama Department of Insurance is available here.
  • You can go to the website for FEMA at www.fema.gov.
  • The Alabama Home Builder's Licensure Board has information for disaster victims on their website at www.hblb.alabama.gov.

Where can I report problems?

  • You can report any problems of alleged fraud or illegal price gouging by calling Toll-Free 1-800-392-5658 or through the Alabama Attorney General's main web page at www.ago.state.al.us.

Reviewed May 2014


AlabamaLegalHelp.org offers legal information, not legal advice. This website provides information on your rights and options. However, the site does not apply the law to your personal facts. For legal advice, you should call a lawyer. To apply for free legal services in Alabama, call the Legal Services Alabama office that is closest to where you live OR call toll-free 1-866-456-4995. You can also apply online HERE.

Last Review and Update: May 14, 2014