Check contractors' licenses, don't pay for costs up front, they say.
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State officials are cautioning homeowners and business owners recovering from the damaging wind storms in Davis, Weber and Salt Lake counties not to fall victim to con artists.
The Utah Department of Commerce has received multiple reports of unlicensed contractors canvassing neighborhoods and businesses in search of properties that need repair. They often work door to door, ask for cash up-front, and then do shoddy work or simply disappear, said Francine Giani, executive director of the Department of Commerce.
"While many volunteers have banded together to help Utahns recover from last week's storms, fraudsters have unfortunately mobilized to take advantage of Utah's trusting nature by offering cheap deals on your doorstep," Giani warned. "Protect yourself by using a professional, licensed contractor who is insured to make sure you avoid further loss or damage."
One of those fraudsters happened to turn up in Giani's Centerville neighborhood on Saturday.
Giani said she was walking over to talk to a couple of neighbors when she saw a man in a truck approach them. The neighbors told her he was a contractor offering help to storm victims.
But when Giani asked the driver if he was a licensed contractor and to see his license, "he could not produce that for me."
As an employee for the very agency that licenses contractors, Giani said her office often sees people try to take advantage of others' misfortunes.
"In this instance, it was actually happening in my own community," she said. "He definitely picked the wrong cul-de-sac. I was very offended."
The incident gave Giani an opportunity to chat with her neighbors about how important it is to have a licensed contractor work on your house.
Consumers can use the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing's free online service to verify licensing at www.dopl.utah.gov. Also, the Utah Division of Consumer Protection has an online list (www.consumerprotection.utah.gov) that shows companies that have been cited by the state for unlawful activity.
"Consumers can log on to DOPL's website 24 hours a day to find out if a contractor is licensed or if there has been a disciplinary action," said Mark Steinagel, director of DOPL.
Tips for avoiding becoming a scam victim
• Be cautious of people who show up at your front door and tell you, "I'm in the area just for today," or "I can perform the work for you really cheap," or "You have to decide now."
• Always ask to see a copy of his or her contractor's license. Utah law requires all contractors to be licensed. You can call the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing to check if a person is a licensed contractor in Utah at 801-530-6628, toll-free in Utah 866-275-3675 or check online at www.dopl.utah.gov.
• Ask for references of people they have performed work for previously; call those references.
• Get a written bid, and then phone other licensed contractors to compare material and job costs.
• Always get a written contract from the contractor.
• Make payment out to the name on the contractor's license, and never to an individual.
Source: Utah Department of Commerce