STORM-CHASING-SCAMHoosiers were hit hard by storms this week. If your home or property has been damaged, beware of home improvement scammers who may be looking to prey on your situation and swindle you into paying for shoddy, overpriced or unneeded work.

Storm chasers are door-to-door home repair scammers who victimize people by urging immediate action or offering tempting discounts so that the customer doesn’t have time to fully vet the contract or the company. The storm chasers are often out of state contractors that swing into town and offer work right then and there, although it sounds convenient, it can be risky without thorough research.

So far this year the Attorney General’s Office has received more than 985 complaints related to home improvement scams, making it one of the most common complaint areas. People had the most problems with roofing, chimney and gutter work.

The Indiana Attorney General’s Office encourages people to follow the 10 tips below to avoid a home improvement scam:

*   Do your research. Know how much you can afford and what you want done.
*   Get multiple price quotes from different contractors.
*   Check with the Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General’s Office to see if complaints have been filed against the contractor.
*   Check to make sure the contractor is locally licensed, bonded and insured. A performance bond provides the most direct protection for the consumer. Bonds that cover municipal code compliance may be helpful but often do not offer direct refunds if you’re scammed. Your local building department or code enforcement departments are good resources to check.
*   Ask the contractor for local references that you can contact directly to determine the quality and timeliness of the contractor’s work.
*   Get a contract in writing that details what work is to be done and when it will be finished.
*   If the contractor came to your door unsolicited, ensure you receive a notice from the contractor of your ability to cancel the contract within three days for a full refund before signing any contract.
*   Never pay for the entire project before the work begins. Do not pay more than a third of the total cost as a down payment and make sure that any subsequent payments or “draws” correspond to definite, significant, and tangible job progress.
*   Do not let a contractor convince you not to secure a permit when one is required. The permit process provides protections to ensure the contractor completes the job in compliance with local building and safety codes.
*   Demand that the contractor obtain and let you inspect all permits required for your work, and do not be shy about checking with your local building department about whether a permit has been pulled. When in doubt, check with your local building department about whether a permit is required for the work you need.