Thursday, December 18, 2014

Beware of unscrupulous contractors

LINDENWOLD They show up at fire scenes - all times of the day and night - and appear to offer help to displaced homeowners when they need it most.

But beware.

The representatives of many property restoration, board-up and public adjuster services use such emergencies "to prey on victims while they are most vulnerable," said Freeholder Scot McCray, liaison to the Camden County Department of Public Safety.

The Board of Freeholders has warned residents to be wary of such contractors. New Jersey law prohibits their practices between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. within the first 24 hours of a fire loss.

Homeowners should take steps to protect themselves, McCray said.

"First and foremost, all homeowners who have received damage from a fire should contact their insurance company before agreeing to any services signing any documents," McCray said.

"Never permit anyone into your home until you have verified their identity and know the recommended guidelines established by your insurance company," he said.

Many municipalities in Camden County maintain a list of approved contractors for fire restoration services. Several municipalities also require restoration board-up companies to obtain a solicitation license before speaking with residents

"Take the individual's business card and contact them at a later time once you have had a chance to investigate your options," McCray said. "Not making hasty decisions will benefit you in the long run.

"I know this from firsthand experience when my family lost our home to a fire," he said.

In New Jersey, public adjusters are prohibited from misrepresenting themselves or offering legal advice. They are also not allowed to accept any money toward the settlement of a claim unless it is held in escrow.

"Know the facts to keep yourself from being more than just a victim of a fire," McCray said. "If you feel that you have received an inappropriate solicitation at a fire scene, please contact your local police department."

Complaints against individuals or corporations abusing victims in emergency situations can be submitted to the State of New Jersey, Enforcement/Consumer Protection, Box 329, Trenton, N.J. 08625.

- Edward Colimore

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