Sheriff Grady Judd reminds residents to be alert and report any suspicious door-to-door or phone solicitation for home repairs. Scammers will drive through neighborhoods offering deals too good to be true, or jobs that require large amounts of cash up front.
"These traveling scam artists are experts at separating trusting people from their money. They can be especially effective preying on people in the aftermath of a natural disaster. They know people need contractors and they are willing to exploit their victim's needs. Although there are several variations of the scam, there is one common theme - if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." - Grady Judd, Sheriff
Your first step should be to ensure the contractor is properly licensed (and insured) for the job. Check to see if a company is properly licensed and if there are any consumer complaints filed against a licensed contractor at MyFloridaLicense.com, the Department of Professional Business Regulation's website. You can also contact the Florida Attorney General's Office at 1 (866) 9NO-SCAM to see if there are complaints against a company or contractor.
One of the best methods to hire a contractor is to ask your friends and family for a reference.
Here's another problem: Debris will be removed curbside over the next 30 days or so for free by local and county government. There is no need to pay someone to haul away your debris. In fact, in the past we have seen people offer to haul away your debris for a fee, and then they turn around and dump it on another right-of-way to be picked up for free.
If you choose to take your debris to a public landfill, you will be charged. So, even though it will be messy over the next several weeks, we recommend moving your debris to the curb for free pick-up.
Here are several tips to remember when dealing with contractors.
- First, keep in mind that there is a lot of work to be done and there are only so many licensed contractors to do the work. Be patient. Expect higher prices for materials for things like lumber and roofing materials because of the high demand in Florida and from Hurricane Harvey that hit Texas. The vast majority of our local contractors are hard-working honest people.
- Watch out for unsolicited offers or contractors claiming they can perform repairs at a discount with leftover supplies from another job.
- Request a written estimate on all home improvement offers and compare the prices. Con artists are notorious for charging a higher price for inferior materials and unnecessary repairs. Without a written estimate, victims get trapped into paying extremely high total costs when the job is "finished."
- Do not be rushed into a "special bargain" - often described as a "one-time" offer. An example is that a Traveler will claim he has excess asphalt, tar, etc. from another job and he will sell it "cheap." Remember, if it sounds too good to be true - it probably is.
- Do not do any business with any contractor with an out-of-state vehicle license.
- Any legitimate Polk County business soliciting work will have a Business Tax Receipt from the Polk County Tax Collector, a soliciting permit from the Clerk of the Courts, and a Florida Contractor's License. If they do not have all of these, do not do business with them.
- Be careful responding to any roadside sign offering work this tactic is often used by Travelers. Out-of-state telephone numbers are also used in many of these scams.
- Do not pay for anything until all services are completed to your satisfaction.
- Do not give out credit card numbers over the phone.
Know that applications for federal FEMA relief programs are free and can be accessed at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA. Be wary of those who are trying to conduct business with you, and always ask questions! Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Report all suspicious offers or solicitations to the Polk County Sheriff's Office immediately at 863.298.6200.