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Authorities warn of scams, offer tips

iowa dept of public safetyDES MOINES – As spring is upon us, the warmer weather and damage from severe storms draw scam artists to our state posing as local contractors willing to do home repair work, but Iowans need to beware.

Home repair scams are one of the most common scams targeting the elderly and other vulnerable victims. These scammers frequently offer services like blacktop or asphalt paving, tree trimming, brick glazing, lawn fertilizing and gutter and roof repairs, often following severe weather damage and other natural disasters.

Scam artists are more likely to use in-person, door-to-door solicitations, offering low prices and quick work, within an hour or two. Some scam artists provide “work and run” scams, where they perform low-quality work or partial work and then disappear. Others collect all money up front and never provide any work promised. Some scam artists are known to commit identity theft by requesting or looking at personal and financial documents while completing home repairs and then sell or use that information to defraud homeowners.

Homeowners also need to know what services are free. Some scammers request payment for free services like offering to disconnect and reconnect utilities, which is done for free by utility companies. Others offer, for a fee, to speed up the process for obtaining a building permit or obtaining insurance. Speeding up those processes is not possible, especially by a third party.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety offers some tips to protect you from scammers:

– Avoid on-the-spot contracts and read through all contracts before signing. Do not let the contractor rush you into signing by saying that other consumers will take your place if you wait.
– Before you enter into a contract, check with the Better Business Bureau, the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, and several references.
– Avoid out-of-area business. Check the contractor’s registration with the Iowa Division of Labor and proof of liability insurance.
– Get all prices in writing. Don’t pay a large amount in advance. Pay materials suppliers directly, when possible.
– Negotiate any insurance repairs and payments directly with your insurance company, and don’t let the contractor negotiate the agreement for you.
– Spell out, in writing, the scope of the work to be done and the quality (or brand) of materials to be used. Do not sign a contract that lets the contractor decide the scope and materials with your insurance company, or you may be forced to pay liquidated damages to cancel the contract if you don’t like their decisions.
– Write down license plate numbers of salespeople, contractors and workers.

You have the right to cancel within THREE business days, and the right to a full refund within ten business days, of most door-to-door sales, or sales made at a place other than the seller’s normal place of business.

Shred all documents that contain any personal or financial information or Personal Identification Numbers (PINs).

If you believe you are a victim of a scam, call your local law enforcement. Contact the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, online or by calling (515) 281-5926.

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