Shady contractors target tornado victims

Posted at 8:01 PM, Jan 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-20 00:08:42-05

In the wake of recent tornadoes, neighbors in Sarasota tell ABC Action News they’re fed up with contractors offering help with no proof they work for legitimate companies. Local leaders are warning against possible scams.

What can they do to protect themselves?

With boarded up windows, uprooted trees still lining the street and blue tarps covering roofs, clean-up to fix damaged homes in Sarasota and Manatee counties is just beginning.

“I’ve been here 43 years. It’s the first time I’ve experienced something like this,” said Don Garvey.

Don Garvey says he can’t even calculate how much it’ll cost to fix the damage to his home. The hole in his roof is covered, his car in the garage is dented and he’s waiting on his insurance for an estimate.

Meanwhile, he says he’s being hounded by contractors. He says he’s had at least 25 different people banging on his door.

“Here’s my card, here’s my card, call me, I’m the best guy in town,” he said.

While there are signs warning homes are unsafe, Cathy Fleming put up a sign of her own telling contractors to stay away. 

“You turn around, and they’re here. They’re in the garage, and they’re saying, 'We can help you,' but they’re from Lauderdale, Miami and Coral Gables," said Fleming. "They say, 'We can do this, we can do that, and you’re insurance company is not going to give you what we could get for you. We’re the negotiators.'”

Sarasota County leaders warn these are all tactics scammers use to get your money.

According to The Better Business Bureau, there are red flags you need to watch out for. These warning signs include door-to-door solicitation, no registration, high pressure tactics, requesting payment in advance and lack of a contract. Fleming says she knew the contract she was offered wasn’t right.

“If you look at the contract, they’re really not negotiating anything,” Fleming said.

Local leaders say the best thing you can do is find a licensed contractor accredited by the BBB or referred by your insurance company. If you already have a contractor, you can check their licensing status with the county, and permitting experts will walk you though a step-by-step process. You can also try checking them out on Angie’s List.

Neighbors here say the last thing they need is a scam.

“We don’t need these people taking advantage of a situation when we’re all worn out,” Fleming said.

If you live in Sarasota County, the number to call is 941-861-5000. To file a complaint through the Florida Department of Business Professional Regulation, click here.