Avoiding contractor scams: ‘Do your homework, or face a headache later on.’

News 6 investigator vets an unsolicited contractor so you can too

Many Floridians are getting solicitations from contractors for repairs and replacements in homes damaged by Hurricane Ian. But how can people make sure these contractors are legitimate? News 6 Investigator Merris Badcock has a few tips.

ORLANDO, Fla. – With the Department of Business and Professional Regulations easing licensing restrictions to help people recover from Hurricane Ian, now more than ever, folks need to be vigilant when it comes to contractor scams.

According to the Better Business Bureau, what might feel like a godsend at first, could end up being a nightmare if folks don’t do their homework upfront when it comes to contractor solicitations.

Here’s how News 6 investigator Merris Badcock vetted an unsolicited proposal that showed up in an employee’s mailbox days after Hurricane Ian.

  • First, we went to the website listed on the flyer. The website seemed to take us to the right place, since both the flyer and site offered similar specials: buy one window or door and get the second one 40% off. But the company looked like they had a national footprint, with locations all over the country. So we wanted to know who would actually be doing the work?
  • We called the 1-800 number listed on the flyer. A customer service representative promised us that they worked with only licensed contractors, but when we pressed them for a Florida license number, they did not have one available over the phone. We did not want to set up a consultation without vetting the license number first, so our last choice was to show up to the local office in person.
  • It took us a few minutes to find the right place since the address online was wrong, but when we did, the company’s vice president of marketing confirmed that the flyer was legitimate and sent out by their corporate office. She also provided us with the business’s Florida license number, which we verified on the Department of Business and Professional Regulations website.

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The Better Business Bureau also encouraged us to hire someone local, with a Florida license from DBPR. They also warned us of companies offering discounts or deal after hurricanes, since reputable companies are “up to their arms” in people who need work and repairs done to their home. Here are all the tips Holly Salmons, President and CEO of the BBB in Central Florida, shared with News 6.

  • Give yourself time to check out companies and contractors. Salmons says this kind of checking takes time (as we also discovered when we went to vet the flyer). If you rush it, you may miss a red flag.
  • Choose a Florida-based company. “If you have an issue, and they have already returned to Kansas, or they have already returned to the state where they came from, how are you going to get help down the road? What is the follow up going to be like,” Salmons said.
  • Check their license for complaints. “If they cannot easily and readily answer your questions, those should all be considered red flags,” said Salmons. “You have to pay attention to the red flags, because your home, for most people is your most valuable asset.” Ask for their DBPR license number, and then check the following websites for complaints:
  • Check that the license really belongs to them. If you find that the license belongs to someone else, Salmons calls that a “qualifier”, but she says this is legally allowed in the State of Florida. “Is it legal to use a qualifier? In most circumstances, yes. But does it complicate things? Absolutely.”
  • Avoid hiring a company who will subcontract the job to someone else. Salmons says subcontractors do not always hold the same qualifications as a general contractor. Make sure you are vetting the person doing the actual work on your home.
  • Beware of ‘lead sheets’. Salmons warns of folks canvassing neighborhoods looking for work. Sometimes these are not contractors, but salespeople hired to bring in “leads” or sales to companies. Good contractors do not normally use this tactic to pick up new clients.
  • Beware of offers or deals during times of distress. “Most reputable providers, especially right now following the storm, they have a waiting list as long as their arm,” said Salmons. “They do not have to offer specials or deals, because they have a lengthy waiting list.”

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About the Author:

Award-winning investigative reporter Merris Badcock joined the News 6 team in October 2020. Merris is the recipient of a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award, a Suncoast Regional Emmy Award, four Suncoast Emmy Regional nominations, and two first-place Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists’ Awards.