With the cleanup of Irma's aftermath underway, the Polk County Sheriff's office wants residents to alert or report any suspicious solicitations for home repairs.
"These traveling scam artists are experts at separating trusting people from their money," said Sheriff Grady Judd. "They can be especially effective preying on people in the aftermath of a natural disaster. They know people need contractors and they are willing to exploit their victim's needs."
Sheriff Judd says one common theme amongst these scammers are deals that are very attractive when it comes to their prices. "If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is," he said.
Here are some steps residents can take to protect themselves.
They can check the validity of those businesses with the Department of Professional Business Regulation's website, MyFloridaLicense.Com. They can also contact the Florida Attorney General's Office at 1-866-9NO-SCAM.
Those sources will alow potential customers to check if the contractor is properly licensed, insured, and whether any consumer complaints were filed against them.
Sheriff Judd also advises residents to be patient with cleanup efforts. Curbside debris removal in ongoing within the next 30 days. The service is also free and residents don't need to pay for the service.
The Sheriff's Office included some helpful tips to keep residents safe:
- Prices for lumber and roofing materials will be higher, due to higher demand, because of Hurricane Harvey in Texas as well as Irma in Florida. If someone is offering leftover supplies or discounts for contracting, it's likely a scam.
- Require a written estimate for all home improvement offers and compare prices.Con artists will charge higher prices for inferior materials or unnecessary repairs. Without an estimate, your at the mercy of the contractor and could end up paying high costs when the job is "finished."
- Do not do business with out-of-state vehicle licenses as any legitimate Polk County business will have a Business Tax Receipt from the Polk County Tax Collector, a soliciting permit from the Clerk of the Courts, and a Florida Contractor's License. If they don't have all three, do not do business with them.
If you run into any of these situations, please report them to the Polk County Sheriff's Office immediately at 836-298-6200.