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Our View: Register for aid, avoid scams

Published: Thursday, May 16, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

If your home sustained damage from the flooding last month, it’s recommended that you register to be eligible for federal disaster assistance.

On Friday, DeKalb County was one of 11 counties in the state designated as a federal disaster area. The designation makes property owners eligible for federal aid to repair flood-related damage not covered by insurance.

The federal assistance could include grant money and loans to pay for repairs, property losses and, in extreme cases, temporary housing.

Our area might not have been as hard-hit as some, but water damage can have effects that make themselves known later. For example, foundations can crack in cold winter weather after spring floods.

Few people in our area have registered for federal aid, officials say. But they also encourage anyone to contact authorities rather than assuming they are not eligible for help.

That would seem to be a good idea. It’s a problem much easier to deal with now rather than months later. Although interacting with the federal government probably conjures up thoughts of mountains of red tape and hassles in the minds of some, officials say registered for disaster aid online through Disasterassistance.gov or by phone at 800-621-3362 is a relatively simple process that takes 10 minutes or less.

If it can help local homeowners protect themselves against financial hardship, it’s 10 minutes worth spending.

The disaster declaration could attract interest from scammers as well.

Whether you have pending flooding repairs or anticipate hiring somebody to do work on your home this summer, you should be aware of how to avoid being scammed.

The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips:

• Research contractors;

• Request bids from two or three different companies;

• Base all bids on the same criteria;

• Do not automatically pick the lowest bid;

• Do not give in to demands to make excessively large down payments, and do not make a full payment until all the work is done to your satisfaction;

• Determine whether the contractor has the proper insurance;

• Ask to see any required state or local permits or licenses;

• Check with your local and county units of government to determine whether permits or inspections are required;

• Work with contractors who have a verifiable track record;

• Get all estimates in writing.

Additionally, Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office offers these tips:

• Call the attorney general’s Consumer Fraud Hotline to check out a contractor and to learn whether any complaints have been filed against a particular business;

• Be aware that you have the right to cancel a contract within three business days if you signed it based on the contractor’s visit to your home;

• In the case of disaster repair, if your insurance carrier denies coverage, you have the right to cancel the contract within five days of when your insurance carrier denies your coverage.

If you suspect you have been a victim of fraud, call Madigan’s office at 800-386-5438.

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