April 3, 2011  //  


Media Contacts:
FEMA – Josie Pritchard        (276) 973-0078
VDEM – Suzanne Simmons   (276) 973-0063

May 28, 2002


WISE, Va. — State and federal disaster recovery officials advise Virginia residents who have disaster-related damage to be careful when hiring unknown contractors to clean up and repair their homes and businesses.

“It’s unfortunate, but disasters often bring scam artists into the area to take advantage of the situation,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Louis Botta. “Some scam artists claim to be ‘FEMA certified.’ The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) neither certifies nor endorses any private-sector contractor.”

Residents must be especially alert for door-to-door solicitors who hand out make-shift flyers and promise to speed up the insurance or government claims process.

State Coordinating Officer Michael Cline said, “All FEMA and Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) personnel carry photo identification and flood victims should never hesitate to ask to see it.”

Emergency management officials also offer the following suggestions on how to be a wise consumer:

  • Use reliable, licensed contractors. Call the Better Business Bureau of Western Virginia
    (1-800-533-5501) to inquire about a business before signing a contract.

  • Get a written estimate. Be sure to obtain a written estimate for the job and read the fine print. Compare the services and prices of several reputable contractors before making a final decision. Hire local contractors, if possible. Some contractors charge a fee for an estimate, which is often applied to the price of subsequent repairs they make.

  • Check references. Contractors should be willing to provide the names of previous customers. Call several former customers who had similar work done to make sure they were satisfied with the job.

  • Ask for proof of insurance. Make sure the contractor carries general liability insurance and workers’ compensation. If the contractor is not insured, the homeowner may be liable for accidents that occur on the property or to the house/building.

  • Insist on a written contract. A complete contract should clearly state all the tasks to be performed, all associated costs and the payment schedule. Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces. Make sure the contract clearly states who will apply for the necessary permits or licenses. Have a lawyer review the contract, if substantial costs are involved, and keep a copy for your records.

  • Get any guarantees in writing. Any guarantees made by the contractor should be written into the contract. The guarantee should clearly state what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee and how long the guarantee is valid.

  • Have work inspected. If excavation work is being performed (e.g., sewers or basement walls) make sure a qualified inspector examines the work before it is hidden from view to avoid similar problems in the future.

  • Make final payments when the work is completed. Do not sign completion papers or make the final payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction. A reputable contractor will not threaten you or pressure you to sign if the job is not finished properly.

  • Pay by check. Avoid on-the-spot cash payments. The safest route is to write a check to the contracting company. A reasonable down payment is 30 percent of the total cost of the project, to be paid upon initial delivery of materials. Federal law gives consumers a three-day “cooling off” period for unsolicited door-to door sales of more than $25.

  • Canceling a contract. Canceling a contract should be done within three business days of signing. Be sure to follow the procedures for cancellation that are set out in the contract. Send the notification by registered mail with a return receipt to be signed by the contractor.

Consumers who have problems with a contractor or have been victims of fraud are urged to contact one of the following agencies:

Virginia State Corporation Commission
Phone: 1-800-552-7945
TTY Phone: 804-371-9206

Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Phone: 1-800-552-9963
Fax: 804-225-2666


NOTE TO EDITORS: Information on the Southwest Virginia disaster is also available on FEMA’s homepage on the Internet at, or VDEM’s homepage at Information also is available through FEMA’s 24-fax-on-demand service by calling (202) 646-FEMA. RADIO NEWS DIRECTORS: For recorded actualities on response and recovery operations call the FEMA Radio Network at 1-800-323-5248.


Be ready. Be willing to help.

Virginia Disaster Relief Fund