As residents start looking to hire home contractors for damages sustained by Hurricane Nicholas, city officials warn locals about scams that could occur.
“There’s going to be a lot of contractors coming in the next few days offering their services,” Clute City Manager CJ Snipes said. “Please make sure you have a legitimate contractor and if they’re supposed to be licensed they have a license from the state, and if they don’t have a license and are trying to do electrical or plumbing, people don’t need to use them.”
It will be an issue residents will face because it happens after every storm, Snipes said.
“What ends up happening is contractors come in from out of state anytime there’s a storm and try to offer their services,” Snipes said. “A lot of times what they would do is take a down payment or a deposit, start work and then bolt.”
Although residents suchas Mike Follett have not experienced it, he is aware of the dangers fraudsters pose.
“I know people fall for it and I like to think I’m not one of those guys,” Follett said. “I am by nature very skeptical. With Nicholas, we were very fortunate; we had a few down trees. I can get a storm door for my pump house. That is the extent of damages to our house.”
It’s hard to catch scammers, Follett said, because by the time people realize, the contractors are long gone to another state.
“I wish more of them would get caught and I wish more of them would get prosecuted to the extent of the law,” Follett said. “It just seems like they are getting away with it. Before you give somebody a check for the money do some background research on that business and make sure they are real.”
Cody Dupond knows of several people who’ve been taken in by scams in the past.
“It was devastating, being lied to, having their money stolen,” he said. “It’s been people who I’ve heard of, like acquaintances, people you know by name but don’t really know.”
If people are asking for money upfront to do work, just shop around for other contractors and don’t just go with the first one because it’s a low bid, Freeport Police Chief Ray Garivey said.
“Shop around for other contractors. It may cost you a little bit more but they’re good companies and they do good for themselves — they don’t need your money upfront,” he said. “They will come out and do the work.”
If they’re not local, be a little concerned, Garivey said.
“We have no problem as a police department if they feel something is not right with (people) calling us and letting us come out there and meet with their folks as well,” Garivey said. “We don’t mind as a courtesy to our citizens, especially for the elderly. These are the ones they target the most: elderly citizens. You don’t know any better.”
Not only do these scams affect residents, but they also affect the business of credible companies looking to help after storms.
“Yes, definitely,” Max Ryder, who formerly was one half of Twisted Duo Construction and who now owns a pressure washing business, said of whether her business is affected by such scams.
“There are so many scam artists out there,” she said. “It is very hard to break into the business to gain trust. One of the (Facebook) pages in Brazoria County that helps so much is run by two women: ‘Brazoria County contractors that are bad news.’ They really highlight bad contractors.”
For other businesses, like Branson Contracting, such scams actually help.
“It works out well for us because we come in and we’re the heroes,” Office Manager Janet Klimek said. “Walter Branson has been in business for over 50 years; he is an established name in the community. People know him, they know the name and they know the job, and know what we can do, and they know the quality of our work.
“We’ve saved the day a few times, especially after Harvey,” she said. “Some fly-by-nights came in and did half the job, and we did the other half.”
Branson Contracting advises people to go local and get references, Klimek said.
“The best thing to do is have a contract,” Dupond said. “Make sure you research them as much as possible.”