| The Daytona Beach News-Journal
Beware of scammers after DeLand tornado, Chitwood says
Beware of scammers swooping in to try to take advantage of people after Tuesday’s tornado, said Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood.
Beware of unlicensed contractors and scammers swooping in to try to take advantage of people picking up the pieces of homes shattered by Tuesday’s tornado in DeLand and the surrounding area.
That was the message from Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood and a group of contractors during a press conference Friday outside the New Covenant Baptist Church in tornado-damaged DeLand.
“This weekend we feel that you are going to see a proliferation of unlicensed contractors,” Chitwood said.
And the sheriff had a warning for scammers who might try to prey on people recovering from the Tuesday twister that tore through DeLand and the surrounding area, damaging 154 structures and causing more than $7.4 million in damage.
“Let the word go forth,” Chitwood said, “If you are one of those scumbags, parasites, that think you are going to come into our community and abuse our residents, not only are you going to deal with law enforcement, you are going to deal with the folks behind me that understand how the process is supposed to work.”
READ MORE: Volusia-Flagler sheriff’s team up in unlicensed contractor sting
Those folks standing behind Chitwood included: Richard VonBrocken, associate director of the Volusia Building Industry Association and president of Von-Air Inc; James Fogle, treasurer of the Volusia Building Industry Association and owner of Fogle Constructors Inc.; Wendell Bradford, president of JAS Construction Group and Anita Bradford of Deltona City Commissioner and general manager of JAS Construction Group.
READ MORE: Officials: DeLand-area tornado causes more than $7.4 million in damage
The press conference was broadcast on Facebook where VonBrocken could be seen standing at the microphones and saying that he won’t even use the term “unlicensed contractor” for people who cannot write a legally binding contract since they have no license.
“I refuse to refer to an unlicensed individual as a contractor,” he said.
Beyond the chance that the person will take a deposit and disappear, they might try to do the work and cause plenty of problems just the same, he said.
Most unlicensed workers don’t have liability insurance or workers’ comp so if one of them is hurt, the homeowner will be liable, he said. And homeowner’s insurance will not cover the injury, because the person did not have a license, VonBrocken said.
And if there is unlicensed work on the property and its discovered when the property is going to be sold, the homeowner must bring it up to code and that may require redoing all the work, he said.
“The temptation of the low price in conjunction with the feeling of desperation will make people think about taking that chance but, as any real gambler will tell you, don’t take a chance if you are not willing to take the loss and the possibility is losing everything,” VanBrocken said.
Anita Bradford recommended homeowners get multiple quotes to project themselves and check people out online at the Volusia Building Industry Association website. People can also check at the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s website.
To check on a contractor, go to: http://www.volusiabia.com/
To check state contractor licensing: http://www.myfloridalicense.com/DBPR/
“And easy, quick way is not to take that first quote, but ask for one, two or three quotes,” she said. “Go online, go to the Volusia Building Industry Association website.”
She said it’s about protecting your investment in your home and protecting your family since you are allowing workers into your home.
And she asked people needing work to tornado-damaged homes to keep in mind the locals.
“Let’s also focus on let’s give our local merchants, our local contractors our local vendors, let’s give them business as well,” Bradford said. “Let’s make sure they are licensed. They are bonded and they are insured to protect you.”
There have been no reports of unlicensed contractors yet but the sheriff said they are out there. Chitwood said that his deputies in the past have arrested unlicensed contractors with long criminal records.
“You see from our end, the policing end, you see these reports of unlicensed contractors who take your money and flee, who perpetuate scams on you you’ve seen us lock up people with heroin in their cars, people stealing out of homes,” Chitwood said. “We want to get a foot in front of it and end this now.”