Fraud and Scams Flourish in Florida after Irma

Metts Legal is helping fight fraud and scams in the wake of Irma’s Damage.  We are spreading the word to clients and friends concerning the con artists who are taking advantage of homeowners who have already been battered and bruised.

Fraud always follows every hurricane with a whirlwind group of fraudulent insurance, construction and clean-up scamsters.   Victims feel like they have been hit hard twice.  One time it was the force of nature, Hurricane Irma.  Then, it was the force of fraud and human greed.

Metts Legal joins the authorities and media who are sending you tips and warnings about the unethical behaviors of con artists that literally follow storms.  As a public service to fellow Floridians, this blog brings you recent information on how you can protect yourself from fraud as you rebuild your life after Irma.

Likewise, please refer to our previous post if you feel your insurance company is dealing with you unfairly.

Types of Fraud and Scads of Scams In Irma’s Wake

Whether you suffered major damage or just a little, we know you want fairness and honesty as you process insurance claims or claim public assistance.

Fraud and Scams make a second wave of victims after the storm has passed.

Just as you watch for bad weather, you must watch out for Fraud and scams in the aftermath of hurricanes.

Here are just a few of the scams we have encountered as we attempt to protect consumers and clients from unscrupulous profiteers:

1.      Tantalizing Tree Service scams,

2.      Bamboozling Building and home repair fraud,

3.      Fake Relief Scams,

4.      Dishonest water testing and treatment scams.

Defensive Moves Against Fraud, Scams and Con Artists:

Because our qualified contractors are so busy, scam artists can take advantage of citizens who desperately need repairs to their residences.  So here are our Metts Legal Top Tips as we see consumers dealing with repair situations.

Fraud #1 The Construction Con:

These Eager Beavers prowl the area, knock on the door and claim they are there to help you at a cut rate.  Typically they offer discounts because they say they have supplies, high-quality left-overs from another big job.

The Truth:  They probably have no supplies at all and they will abscond with your first payment, never to be seen again.  Alternatively, they will do your repair with cheap, sloppy labor and below code methods and supplies.

How to Fight the Construction Fraud

To fight this scam, Metts Legal agrees with advice to “Have your insurance company evaluate damage before arranging repairs to ensure that the work will be covered under your policy…”

1.      Get 3 written, itemized estimates or bids on repairs

2.      Look at the contractor’s license with local and state boards.

3.      Check on the license and double check if there are consumer complaints against the company at MyFloridaLicense.com, the Department of Professional Business Regulation’s website in Florida. 

4.      Ask for References.

How Construction Fraud Operates

If the company makes you suspicious, don’t let them move on to cheat your neighbor.  Here is the number of the Florida Attorney General’s Office: 1 (866) 9NO-SCAM.  They have the investigative power to see about other complaints of fraud against the company.

5.      What if your repairman falls off a ladder?  Is he ensured and bonded?  Don’t just trust him to tell you he is insured and bonded.  Call his bluff.  Verify his bond and insurance.

6.      Refuse to pay in full up front.  Think twice about the size of your deposits or payments.

Beware of Contracts:  Fine Print Could Hide the Fraud

7.      Don’t let them rush you when you read the contract.  Check on your cancellation rights.  Likewise, look for statements about the company’s suppliers and liens against your property.  That’s right! Some homeowners do not realize that if the contractor doesn’t pay their vendors, the vendors can obtain a lien against your home for money owed them.  And you signed it!

Fraud offers contracts that are too good to be true or full of hidden fine print.

Metts Legal Tip: Be careful what you sign. (Photo is an actor in a dramatization, not a real con man.)

“Homeowners may unknowingly have liens placed against their properties by suppliers or subcontractors who have not been paid by the contractor.  If the contractor fails to pay them, the liens will remain on the title.  Insist on releases of any liens that could be placed on the property from all subcontractors prior to making final payments.”

Here’s another important point about the law, insurance, adjusters and contractors:  Remember, if they are a licensed public adjuster, they cannot also be the contractor.  They cannot both “adjust the claim and also perform the repairs as it would be a conflict of interest, which is prohibited by Florida law.”

8.       In your rush to restore normalcy to your daily life and work, you might be tempted, to sign off on work before it is complete.  Metts Legal warns you to avoid such a signature until you are happy with the completed work.

Fraud#2:   Tree Service Scams with Twisted Ethics:

Hurricane Irma was rough on trees, bushes, and lawns and landscaping.  It’s hard to hide an uprooted tree or big fallen branches.  They lure con artists right to your home.  So, we urge automatic caution when a person with a great chainsaw strides into your yard unsolicited to help you get rid of that dangerous tree.

The Truth:  His only company investment is that big saw.  And he is inexperienced in its use, but way underpriced compared to his competition.  Chances are, he’ll abandon the job as soon as you think he is well into it.  There goes your deposit.  Likewise, if he cuts off his foot, he probably has no insurance and he’ll try to sue you for hiring him.

How to Avoid the Twisted Tree Fraud

1.      As above in the first situation, Metts Legal advises you to get several estimates.

2.      Be sure you want to know what the tree service will do with the debris.  Leaving the remains of a giant old oak or palm in your front yard after it is cut up could be worse than the situation you already have with the tree.

3.      Follow the same steps given above for repair companies.  Check for proof of insurance and verify with the insurer that their policy is current.

Fraud #3: The Cheating Charity :

Metts Legal advises you to run, don’t walk away from fast-talking charity solicitors that have very little information on the organization they represent.

The Truth:  Before you contribute to a fund, make sure you have the exact name.  These scam artists often establish a name that is very similar to a known charity.

How to Avoid the Fake Charity:

Check out your charity at this number (1-800-HELP-FLA) the people at the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  They will help you to discern the honesty of the charity you are considering.  They are the Florida state agency that regulates charities.

Fraud #4 Despicable Disaster Relief Scams:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has several disaster relief programs for victims of Irma.  However, fraudulent representatives are using the programs as cover for identity theft.  They will steal your financial identity.  If all you have left is your good name, hang on to it by being careful when you seek an assistance program.  The scam artists often solicit money just for what they call proper applications for federal FEMA relief programs.

The Truth:  Many application forms are actually free.  They are available at DisasterAssisstance.gov or 1-800-621-FEMA.

Below are some rules that real government workers follow and fake ones break.  They can reveal the scam artists for the fakers they are:

More Truth:  All state and federal workers carry ID and none of them take cash money.  Be skeptical of someone who will expedite your paperwork.  Be cautious of offering access to your personal information to anyone who volunteers to expedite your application.  They could be identity thieves and those easy forms could be faked.

The Better Business Bureau has some excellent advice for you in regards to scams, fraud and basic disaster recovery problems.  Visit them and the experts they recommend if you suspect fraud or scams in your area.  They are also posting disaster recovery information and resources from local, state and federal agencies.

Metts Legal and You:  Fighting Fraud With Knowledge

Your most important takeaway for today and in every hurricane scenario is that Metts Legal wants you to understand a legal document called the Assignment of Benefits Contract.

Fraud thrives on the Internet after hurricanes.

Use Caution When You Choose to Donate to storm victims on the Internet.

Be very wary of contractors who ask you to sign an agreement that will allow them to contact your insurance company and seek approval of repairs for you.

Some unethical businesses might trick you signing a work estimate with a lot of fine print.  In that fine print, they commit you to automatically lock in your contract with their business if and when your insurance claim is approved.  This is the function of an Assignment of Benefits Contract.

Visit this credible online resource for more information from Florida Department of Financial Services.

We hope the storms stay away from us for a while now that Florida families have begun to rebuild their routines and their properties.

Remember Metts Legal is your champion in the legal world and your personal injury specialists.  If someone hurts you through their negligence or carelessness, they will have to answer to us—and to The Law.

Spread the word. Share this post!