What tornado victims need to know before hiring a contractor

(Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: WAFF 48 News)
(Source: WAFF 48 News)
License card (Source: WAFF 48 News)
License card (Source: WAFF 48 News)

LIMESTONE COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - A warning to tornado victims in Alabama: don't get scammed by thieves. Many are need of repairs right now and con men could be looking to swoop in.

There are important steps you can take to protect yourself when hiring contractors to make repairs.

Wind and hail left a real mess in different parts of the state and recovery efforts continue.

Chip Carden, the executive director of the Alabama Home Builders Licensure Board, made the trip up from Montgomery on Wednesday to visit with tornado victims in Limestone County. About 45 homes were damaged in the Ardmore area by an EF2 tornado.

Carden surveyed damage, handed out literature and shared key information to help get the word out about things impacted residents need to do as they start the process of finding a contractor.

"Make sure you do your research. Talk to people who have done business with them, find a company that has a local address. Be wary of out of state contractors. Get a phone number other than just a cell phone," he said.

[11 tornadoes confirmed across the Tennessee Valley]

You need a licensed home builder on any jobs over $10,000 in Alabama. It's important that you ask them to show you their license card.

"It has their license number on it. It has the company name that's licensed. It has their address and it has the current year posted on it," Carden said. "Ask to see the license card. It's the size of a credit card that licensees card and cardholders will be proud to show it to you."

If the repairs are less than $10,000, make sure to get references. Talk to your local home builders association and building department to see if they know the contractor you're looking at hiring. Go look at their jobs that are currently in progress.

"The research is what protects you," Carden said. "Just don't make those bad decisions that compound the problems that you already have."

Don't panic, he added. Take your time and find the right contractor to get your home and your life back to normal. He said people often spend more time researching a new car than they do finding a contractor to do work on their homes. But doing that extra legwork could save you a lot of money and a lot of headaches.

Sadly, he's seen tornado victims targeted by thieves.

"Some years back when Tuscaloosa and Birmingham were destroyed, we had people coming in from out of state. They would run in on the damage and catch people in a weak moment and take money from people and be gone and not do any work. They've taken their insurance money. They've lost their life savings,' Carden said. "It's just a tragic situation compiled on top of another tragic situation. I don't want to see that happen to anyone else."

[READ MORE: Ardmore family escapes storm that hit their home]

The Limestone County EMA provided the following tips to prevent residents from becoming victims of fraud.

When hiring a contractor for repairs or construction:

Verify the contractor's name, address and phone number.

Check the contractor's license to ensure it is current.

Request references and follow-up.

Obtain at least three estimates.

It's important to remembers that most professionals do not solicit business door-to-door and do not require large deposits or up-front payments.

Lines used by scam artists include:

"I'll have to have all or at least half of the money up-front."

"I'll need some additional money to order more supplies before I can finish."

"Since I'm giving you such a great deal, you will need to pay me in cash."

"Don't tell anyone what I charged you.  I'm not giving anyone else a deal this good."

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