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Scam artists taking advantage of Davis County cleanup



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CENTERVILLE — If you are an unlicensed contractor going door to door trying to make a buck following one of the worst windstorms in recent memory, it's probably not a good idea to solicit the state's top business and commerce enforcement official.

That happened this weekend in the Centerville neighborhood of Francine Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce. Many homes in her community were impacted by high winds and flying debris during last week's storm that caused millions of dollars of damage to property, particularly in Davis and Weber counties.

A man who claimed to be a contractor was making the rounds in Giani's cul-de-sac asking homeowners if they needed any repairs or cleanup done. He claimed to be licensed and insured, Giani said, but when she asked to see his license, the man said he didn't have it with him.

At that point, Giani told the man who she was.

"I happen to work for the agency that licenses contractors, you might want to pick a different area," she told the would-be handyman. Realizing the situation, the man cut his losses and drove away.

All too often, she said, people try to take advantage of others in the wake of some kind of natural disaster, and residents in northern Utah should be aware of unscrupulous contractors who make attempts to defraud unsuspecting homeowners.

"As we've seen this in other places … the wildfires in California, the Louisiana hurricane, people get financially injured by people that are not licensed and are scamming."

The department has received several reports of unlicensed contractors canvassing Davis County neighborhoods and businesses in search of properties that need repair.

Tips for how to avoid becoming a victim
1. Be cautious of people that show up at your front door and tell you, "I'm in the area just for today." "I can perform the work for you really cheap," "You have to decide NOW."

2. Always ask to see a copy of his or her contractor's license. Utah law requires all contractors to be licensed. You can also call the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing to check if a person is a licensed contractor in Utah at (801) 530-6628, Toll-free in Utah (866) 275-3675 or check on line at www.dopl.utah.gov

3. Ask for references of people they have performed work for previously, call those references.

4. Get a written bid. Then phone other licensed contractors to compare material and job costs.

5. Always get a written contract from the contractor. Often people are deceived by work performed on a vague understanding.

6. Make payment out to the name on the contractor's license. Never to an individual.

Often these pitchmen appear on your doorstep claiming they have a great deal on whatever repair is needed and ask for cash upfront, she explained. The con artists then may do a poor job or just disappear with the victim’s money, leaving little recourse.

“While many volunteers have banded together to help Utahns recover from last week’s storms, fraudsters have unfortunately mobilized to take advantage of Utah’s trusting nature by offering cheap deals on your doorstep,” warned Giani. “Protect yourself by using a professional, licensed contractor who is insured to make sure you avoid further loss or damage.”

She acknowledged that not all unlicensed contractors are trying to scam property owners — some just need the work, particularly in this tough economy. But consumers should be wary to avoid being taken advantage of by those who are just trying to make a fast buck.

"If they are a legitimate contractor, ask for their name and contractor number," she said. "Go online to check to find out if they are a contractor in good standing."

By using unlicensed contractors, consumers run the risk of "having them start the job, but not finishing it," she said. "Do your homework, use a contractor that someone you know has had a good experience with."

Consumers can visit the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing website at www.dopl.utah.gov. Also, the Utah Division of Consumer Protection has an online "Buyer Beware" list which shows companies that have been cited by the state for unlawful activity at www.consumerprotection.utah.gov.

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Written by Jason Lee with contributions from Andrew Adams.

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