We have had a lot of weather disasters in Texas lately. After extreme weather and disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, and tornadoes, you might need to hire someone quickly for rebuilding or repairs. You should know how to avoid unlicensed contractors and scammers who promise to help but leave you worse off.

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While storms and disasters are unpredictable, there are ways to spot scammers' tactics. The Federal Trade Commission reminds us of these common signs of a scam, which could help you avoid one.

Scammers will claim they don't need to be licensed to do the work.

Scammers will say you'll get a discount only if you sign a contract immediately.

Scammers will tell you to sign over your insurance check.

Scammers will ask you to pay for everything upfront.

Scammers insist you pay by wire transfer, gift card, payment app, cryptocurrency, or cash.

Scammers will ask you to sign a "blank contract."

Scammers will suggest you borrow money from a lender they know.

Scammers will claim they can help you qualify for FEMA relief ― for a fee.

As you focus on cleaning up, rebuilding, and getting back on track, here are some ways to avoid a scam.

  • Know that FEMA doesn't charge application fees. If someone wants money to help you qualify for FEMA funds, it's a scam.
  • Verify your insurance coverage. 
  • Don't rely on a contractor to tell you what's covered; never sign your insurance check over to a contractor
  • Instead, arrange a Certificate of Completion with your bank or credit union. That way, the bank will pay the contractor for each stage of the job after your approval.
  • Be skeptical of anyone promising immediate clean-up or repairs. Unlicensed contractors and scammers often appear in recovery zones. If they want cash up front, walk away. And if they won't give you copies of their license, insurance, or written contract, that's a red flag. 
  • Check out contractors before you commit to anything. 
    • Use online review sites you trust to see what others are saying. Do people seem to have similar experiences, good or bad? You can also check out a contractor's reputation by searching online for their name with words like "scam," "review," or "complaint."
    • Confirm your contractor's license and insurance. Check with your state or county government to confirm a contractor's license and ask the contractor for proof of insurance. Consider only licensed and insured contractors.
    • Check with a local home builders' association. Find out if there are complaints against contractors you're considering.
  • Get estimates from more than one contractor. The written estimate should include a description of the work, materials, completion date, price, and the contractor's contact information. Don't automatically choose the lowest bidder. Ask for an explanation if there's a big price difference.
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Get a written contract and read it carefully. Contract requirements vary by state. Ask for one even if your state doesn't require a written agreement. Before you sign a contract, make sure it includes

  • the contractor's name, address, phone, and license number (if needed)
  • an estimated start and completion date, a payment schedule
  • any promises made during conversations or calls related to issues such as the scope of work and the cost of labor and materials, a written statement of your right to cancel the contract within three business days if you signed it in your home or at a location other than the seller's permanent place of business
  • no blank spaces that someone could fill in later
  • It's bad enough that you have suffered a disaster; don't make it worse by being scammed.

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