KATY, Texas – Lesley Cruz is a hardworking single mom from Katy who is raising two young children in a house ravaged by broken water pipes and severe water damage after the historic Houston winter storm.
“The pipes at the top burst and it was like water pouring into our house,” she said. “It was like a waterfall from the ceiling.”
“We still have no water in the house,” added Cruz. “We have to use bottles of water to brush our teeth and we can’t even take a shower.”
Cruz is already living a disaster and is now trying to avoid another. She’s afraid of being picked up by a night aviation operator or a plumber.
“I just don’t know if I’ll be scammed or if I’ll end up paying someone else to get out and do the same job,” she said.
Leah Napoliello is a fraud expert with the Better Business Bureau in Houston and South Texas who said this was the perfect time for scammers to knock on your door.
“Unfortunately, when there is a disaster, we always see the fraudsters from the woodworks,” said Napoliello.
Napoliello’s job is to help consumers avoid being scammed by seedy contractors, plumbers, and others who want to get your money. It has several rules that you should follow to avoid it.
“First of all, you should never hire someone on site when they come to your doorstep,” said Napoliello.
1. Avoid high pressure sales tactics. Stay away from contractors who come to your door and want you to hire them right away.
2. Ask the contractor or plumber to provide you with a written contract detailing the exact work to be done, the start and end dates of the project, and the materials that will be purchased and used to carry out the work.
3. Ask the contractor, plumber, or company representative to provide you with proof of insurance and a list of several recent customers that you can contact for a review of the company’s work.
When it comes to hiring a plumber, Master Plumber Michael Villasana of Village Plumbing and Air said there are three key questions you need to ask right away before you hire anyone to work in your precious home.
“The first question should be are they licensed, and every plumber should have a license and have it on them, in their pocket or in the truck, and be ready to show it to you right away,” Villasana said.
“The second question is whether or not the company is insured and the third is whether the company is bonded,” Villasana said. “It’s all for your protection.”
Michael also said that every plumber should have a plumber’s license number somewhere on the truck he drives. It’s usually on the bumper or on the side of the truck.
“If the plumber you’re talking to doesn’t have this license number printed on his vehicle for everyone to see, you should turn this so-called plumber away,” said Villasana. “I wouldn’t let this person in my house, much less let them touch my plumbing.”
Valerie Turner is the Consumer Fraud Manager at Harris County Attorney’s Office and has been tracking down fraudsters in the construction sector for years. Her advice is to do an internet search for anyone who might want to work on your home before hiring them.
“If you have had problems with your customers in the past, you need to find information about it,” said Turner. “There could be posts on social media. There might be groups of disgruntled customers out there. “
“I would recommend going to the Better Business Bureau website and looking for the contractor you want to hire,” she added.
You can access the BBB website here.
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