A North Port resident's experience with a roofer shows the need to watch for potential scams
Said one North Port resident: "For the first half hour, we really believed everything he was telling us. Of course, our first reaction was ‘Oh, this is terrific!’ Because we're overwhelmed.”
As residents in Southwest Florida start their slow recovery following Hurricane Ian, they also need to be wary of scammers looking to take financial advantage.
Following the storm, North Port resident Alicia Accardi said she's dealing with roof and water damage, along with mold issues in her home.
A day after the storm, Accardi said a man in a truck came by claiming to work for a roofing company, but he said they could do all of her home repairs.
"For the first half hour, we really believed everything he was telling us,” Accardi said. “Of course, our first reaction was ‘Oh, this is terrific!’ Because we're overwhelmed.”
But after reading the contract the man handed her, Accardi realized his words contradicted what was written.
First, Accardi said she was told that the contract could be broken within the first two weeks. But when reviewing the text, it said that it could only be broken within the first three days.
“I knew it would probably be impossible to make a good decision in three days,” Accardi said.
According to the contract, if it was broken after three days, it would incur a hefty fee.
Then came another discrepancy with insurance.
"I learned that by signing that contract, I would have been assigning my rights over to that company to work directly with my insurance company to cut me out of that," Accardi said.
That meant the company could bill Accardi's insurance any amount without informing her beforehand.
Those issues, and the lack of clarity on pricing for the entire fix, were enough red flags for Accardi to question working with the company.
She declined, and says she's going to thoroughly vet whoever she chooses to repair her home.
“Yes, people are in desperate need,” Accardi said. “What we're looking at looks awful and we want to immediately fix it. But we need to take a step back, and take a breath, and go slower and make smart decisions.”
Accardi encourages people in her local area to go to the insurance village set up by the state's Office of the Inspector General in Port Charlotte Town Center mall, where they can ask questions and get clarifications on making smart decisions.
Eric Olsen is the manager of consumer protection services for Hillsborough County. He says there are a variety of ways people will try to take advantage of others following a disaster like Ian.
"It's very common, whether it's some sort of repair scam, whether it's a charity scam, whether it's price gouging,” Olsen said. “This regularly happens many times before, but usually it occurs after the storm or after the disaster."
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody's office lists some tips for recognizing potential scams, like a repair company being unlicensed or asking for full payment up front. There are also digital scams, like texts asking to click a link and make a donation.
The office is urging people to report acts of suspected price gouging, fraud, or other scams to their website, MyFloridaLegal.com, or by calling the state hotline at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM.
Accardi said on top of prioritizing fixing her house, she is also making sure she’s maintaining a sound mind, as she believes others going through the tragedy should do.
“There was an amazing sunrise this morning in North Port,” Accardi said. “I had a bald eagle flying to one of the trees across the street from me. There are beautiful things. We have to find them to make sure that we're mentally staying healthy.”