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Beware of scam artists offering repairs

Staff Photos: Erin Evans. Newborn resident Cameron Fry saws tree limbs in his Johnson Street yard Wednesday afternoon. Three trees were downed in Fry's yard during last week's storm, but luckily, they fell in the opposite direction of his house.

Staff Photos: Erin Evans. Newborn resident Cameron Fry saws tree limbs in his Johnson Street yard Wednesday afternoon. Three trees were downed in Fry's yard during last week's storm, but luckily, they fell in the opposite direction of his house.

COVINGTON -- Newton County authorities are warning homeowners to make sure they know who they are dealing with when contracting for assistance with repairs needed in the wake of last week's storms.

"Unfortunately, there's some crooks, Irish Travelers, scammers out not to help people, but to rip them off," warned Newton County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Keith Crum.

Crum said it's best, if possible, to know the company or individual you are dealing with.

"It's always best practice if people are approached by someone they haven't contacted or don't know, just someone who comes knocking on their door, to ask to see a business license," he advised. He said as an added precaution, jot down the tag number of any vehicles.

And, he said homeowners should take the time to get some type of written agreement on what services would be provided, the price to be charged and the completion date.

"Once they do reach an agreement, do not pay up front," he said. "It's common and acceptable business practice to pay after the work has been completed as per the agreement."

Crum said a tip-off that you might not be dealing with the most scrupulous of businessmen is if the cost you are quoted for the work is dramatically lower than previous estimates or what your neighbor is paying.

"They're going to give the low-ball figure ... and they will come back and say, 'It was more work than I thought,' and try to raise the price before the job is even completed. And a lot of times, raise it substantially from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand."

Crum said the elderly are particularly vulnerable to scam artists because they're more likely to succumb to threats and pressure.

He said anyone who believes they have been contacted by or feels they are being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous contractor, should call 911.

"Don't worry that it's not an emergency. It's an easy number to remember and it will get us there in a hurry," he said. "A deputy will come out and assist them. While we don't referee civil matters, we don't let people get intimidated by someone who is trying to rip them off."

He said some residents have already had problems even before the storms came through.

"We've had Irish Travelers this year. They're like the plague. They leave North Augusta in the fall and come back in the spring and pass through here both ways," he said, adding that they commonly use offers of driveway paving and roofing as their ploys. The work is known to be substandard and they are long gone before it is discovered.

The Newton County Home Builders Association gives the following tips on checking out contractors:

* Investigate the reputation and experience of the contractor by seeking referrals from friends, family, neighbors and co-workers who have had remodeling work done.

* Check with the Newton County HBA for names of residential contractor members at 770-786-3333.

* Check with your local or state consumer protection agency or Better Business Bureau to find out if any unresolved complaints have been filed against the contractor.

* Check with the Georgia State Licensing Board for residential and general contractors to verify that the contractor has the appropriate license (if required) and a clean record. The state residential or general contractor license is required when the job is more than $2,500; however, consumers are encouraged to seek out licensees even when the repair job is less than $2,500. Consumers can verify that a contractor is properly licensed or file a complaint against a licensed contractor online at http://sos.georgia.gov/plb.

* Find out if a builder or remodeler is licensed by contacting the Professional Licensing Boards at 478-207-2440.

* Request copies of the contractor's insurance certificates to verify that he or she carries insurance that protects you from claims arising from property damage or job site injuries.

The HBA advises if you think you have been a victim of a scam or fraud to contact the Governor's Office of Consumer Protection at http://consumer.georgia.gov or 1-800-869-1123.

For more information about protecting and repairing your home from storm damage, visit the Disaster Resource section of the Home Builders of Georgia Web site at www.hbag.org/page.ap?pg=Disaster Relief Resources.