Guest Column | Scammers don’t hibernate during winter weather

Scammers don’t hibernate in the winter. Just like you, they’re watching the weather reports and preparing for storms – and they’re counting on catching you unawares.

As you get ready for winter, unlicensed contractors and scammers may call, email or knock on your door promising to inspect your furnace, repair your leaky roof or clean your heating ducts. Once winter arrives, they’ll add snow and ice removal to their list. But sometimes they don’t deliver, and they might just take your money and run without doing some or all the work.

To stay ahead of winter weather-related scammers, and certainly before you hire a contractor who found you:

– get recommendations from people you know and trust.

– ask contractors for IDs, licenses, proof of insurance and references before paying for services.

– search online for the company’s name with words like “scam” or “complaint.”

– pay by credit card or check, which offers you protections, and never with cash, gift cards or through wire transfer companies like Western Union or MoneyGram. And only pay in full after the work is done and you’re satisfied with it.

– get a contract. Never rely on handshake deals. Make sure all promises are in writing and that you understand what you’re signing.

To learn more about ways to prepare for, deal with and recover from a weather emergency, visit ftc.gov/WeatherEmergencies.

If you suspect a scam, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

(Terri Miller is a consumer education specialist with the Federal Trade Commission.)

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