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April 17, 2014
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New York State Insurance Department says beware of hurricane scams


• Insist on a written contract that includes a detailed description of the work to be done and specifies exactly what materials will be used and their quality. The contract should include starting and estimated completion dates. The terms, including the price, finance charges and payments, should be what you agreed on. If not, do not sign it! Be sure to get a copy of everything you sign when you sign it.

• Ask if there is a guarantee or warranty. If so, make sure it is in writing. If the company won't put its promises in writing, look for another company which will.

• Do not sign the contract until you read it carefully. If the salesperson pressures you to sign before you read and understand the entire contract - don't sign it! Never rely on the salesperson to read or explain the contract to you.

• Do not pay for work in advance.

• Inspect all of the work very carefully to make sure it was done properly. If you have any doubts or questions, do NOT make your final payment or sign a "completion certificate" until the work is properly finished.

Superintendent Lawsky warned, "If your property has been damaged, you are likely to be upset and want to get things back to normal as quickly as possible. Scam artists take advantage of that. That's why it's important to take the time to think through decisions, shop around, get a written contract and just say no to anything that sounds suspicious or too good to true."

These are some other scams to watch out for:

• Form completion services. Beware of people charging a fee to help you complete disaster assistance forms, such as FEMA or SBA, or obtaining assistance checks. These services are provided free through FEMA and the Red Cross.

• Phony Inspectors. Never let anyone in until you have verified they have the appropriate credentials. Always ask for a telephone number so you can confirm the inspector is working for an authorized agency.

• Government Grant Offers. Be aware of entities offering "free grant money" for flood repair or disaster relief. A true grant is free and never requires any upfront fees or repayment. Check with a regional or state economic development office to see if they know of grant programs for which you might qualify, or contact your local social service agency for information or assistance.

• Advance Fee Loans. Advance fee loans are illegal. Ignore any company that "guarantees" you will receive a loan. Dishonest operators will charge a processing fee, and then promise they will find a lender. It is illegal to charge an up-front fee.