Attorney General Dave Yost is urging Ohioans to watch out for home repair scammers and fake charities after powerful storms caused major damage to homes and businesses in western Ohio earlier this week.
“Already in the early aftermath of these storms, we’ve seen some of the best of humanity on display,” Yost said. “Unfortunately, I expect the coming weeks and months will also bring out some of the worst: scammers hoping to make a quick buck off of those who’ve already lost so much.”
Storm-chasing contractors travel to affected communities to offer their services to homeowners who experience damage, such as downed trees or roof damage. In many cases, they visit consumers at their homes and claim they can complete the work immediately. Unscrupulous contractors may ask for a large down payment or tell consumers to sign over their insurance checks, but ultimately they perform shoddy work or no work at all. Consumers can avoid home repair scams by following these steps:
- Research the business. Ask for identification from the company’s representative, note their name, address and phone number and be cautious of any contractor who doesn’t provide this information. Check for complaints on file with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau. Conduct a basic internet search of the business’ name and words like “complaints,” “reviews” or “scam.” Contact other customers to ask about their experiences with a contractor. Ask neighbors or friends for recommendations.
- Get multiple written estimates. Consider getting estimates from at least three different contractors. Be wary if one contractor quotes a price that is dramatically lower than the prices other businesses are offering. The contractor later may demand more money or fail to complete the work as promised.
- Don’t make large payments in advance. Be wary of contractors who demand large upfront payments, such as half or more of the total cost. Also be wary of contractors who ask you to sign over your insurance check. Try to pay in increments as the work is completed to your satisfaction.
- Get a detailed written contract. Insist on a written contract detailing the costs, the work to be done, the starting and end dates and any verbal promises made by the contractor. The contract should also include whether subcontractors will be used and whether the contractor has or will obtain the necessary license(s) and permits. Insist on a copy of every document you sign or initial.
- Understand your cancellation rights. If the contract resulted from a door-to-door sale, you generally have three days to cancel the contract, according to Ohio’s Home Solicitation Sales Act. The seller should give you written notice of these rights.
- Consider paying with a credit card. Paying with a credit card generally gives you greater protections to dispute unauthorized charges, especially compared to paying in cash.
When it comes to making charitable donations, donors should research charities and ask the right questions, Yost said. Donors can follow these steps to ensure their gifts are used as intended:
- Visit the attorney general’s Research Charities webpage to see if charities have complied with registration requirements, to connect with charity watchdog organizations and learn what others say about the group. Media articles and other postings can also provide useful details about groups, board members and key employees.
- View 990 forms, which most tax-exempt groups must file with the Internal Revenue Service. These forms describe where organizations get their funding and how they spend it.
- Support familiar, established organizations or, if considering a donation to an unfamiliar group, check its website first. Does the information match what you received when you were asked to contribute? Do the group’s programs and services make sense?
- Talk with friends and family about unfamiliar solicitations. Have they heard of the group? Do they know of anyone who has been assisted by it?
Ohioans who suspect unfair sales practices or misuse of charitable resources should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.