Jun 22—Staff report
COLUMBUS — With the warm-weather storm season heating up, Attorney General Dave Yost is reminding Ohioans to watch out for home-repair scammers and fake charities soliciting donations on behalf of individuals affected by storms.
“Shady storm chasers make my blood boil — they look to severe weather watches and warnings to try to make a quick buck,” Yost said. “And bogus charities come from the same swamp. Their goal is to rip off people who are trying to help. My office works hard to show Ohioans how to spot these swindlers.”
Unscrupulous contractors travel to storm-damaged communities to offer their services to homeowners, but then perform shoddy work or no work at all. In many cases, they go door to door, claiming that they can complete the work immediately.
The Attorney General’s Office advises consumers to follow these steps to avoid home-repair scams:
—Research the business. Ask for identification from the company representative; note the person’s name, address and phone number; and be wary of any contractor who won’t provide this information. Check out the company’s reputation with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau. You can also search for possible previous lawsuits filed by the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Section.
—Get multiple written estimates. Obtaining at least three written estimates from three distinct contractors could help you weed out bad apples. Beware of contractors that have only a few projects for you to review.
—Don’t make large payments in advance. Instead, pay in increments — for example, a third at the beginning of the job, a third after half of the work is completed to your satisfaction, and the final third when the job is completed.
—Get all promises in writing. Insist on a written contract detailing the costs, the work to be done, the starting and end dates, and any verbal promises made by the contractor. The contract should also note whether subcontractors will be used and whether the contractor has or will obtain the necessary licenses and permits. Insist on being provided a copy of every document you sign or initial.
—Understand your cancellation rights. If the contract resulted from a door-to-door sale, you generally have three days to cancel the contract, according to Ohio’s Home Solicitation Sales Act. The seller should give you written notice of these rights.
—Consider paying with a credit card. Paying with a credit card, as opposed to paying in cash, generally gives you greater protections to dispute unauthorized charges.
When it comes to making charitable donations, donors should research charities and ask questions. Donors should follow these steps to ensure that gifts are used as intended:
—Visit the attorney general’s Research Charities webpage to see whether charities have complied with registration requirements, to connect with charity watchdog organizations and to learn what others say about the group. News articles and other postings can also provide useful details about groups, board members and key employees.
—Request to view 990 forms, which most tax-exempt groups must file with the Internal Revenue Service. These forms describe where organizations get their funding and how they spend it.
—Support familiar, established organizations with a strong track record of success and experience in dealing with natural disasters. Tragedies can sometimes prompt the creation of new charities that may or may not have the needed expertise to provide meaningful relief or run a charity effectively.
—Talk with friends and family about unfamiliar solicitations. Have they heard of the group? Do they know of anyone who has been assisted by it?
Ohioans who suspect unfair sales practices or misuse of charitable resources should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org, Charitable.OhioAGO.gov or 800-282-0515.