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5/4/2018 - Hamilton County case illustrates need for homeowner vigilance against storm chasers
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A judgment entered last month in Hamilton County Circuit Court should serve as a reminder to all Hoosiers to "Double Check Before You Write a Check" when contracting for home repairs following severe weather.
"Storm chasers" are companies that appear in neighborhoods after severe weather events and sell their services to repair damaged homes and other property. These individuals will typically conduct door-to-door sales in storm-ravaged communities urging consumers to immediately sign contracts with their companies. As part of their pitch, they often promise to assist consumers in negotiations with insurance companies at little to no out-of-pocket cost to customers. Some companies may seek immediate down payments for future work. Hoosiers should be wary of such operations as storm chasers are often fly-by-night operations that may perform sub-quality work or even fail to perform the work at all after receiving a consumers money.
On April 18, 2018, the Hamilton County court found that one such operation -- Veteran Construction Company, Inc., operated by Kurt Beard and Michael Friery -- took hundreds of thousands of dollars from consumers as down payments for work never performed. Friery functioned as Veterans president and majority shareholder while Beard operated as the companys CFO and bookkeeper.
In June 2013, Veteran ceased business operations after failing to perform roofing and/or siding projects for 47 consumers who had paid for them. After being contacted by aggrieved consumers, the Office of the Attorney General filed a lawsuit against Veteran, Beard and Friery. The court ordered Veteran and Friery to pay back $356,578 taken from unsuspecting homeowners. The courts judgment also prohibits Friery from owning, operating or managing another Indiana company that performs home improvements. Beard previously signed a separate judgment resolving his aspect of the lawsuit.
In April of 2017, Attorney General Hill launched the "Double Check Before You Write a Check" campaign to remind Hoosiers to take steps to protect themselves from becoming victims of storm chasers.
"When severe weather rips through Indiana, the damage can be significant," Attorney General Hill said. "In the worst cases, the devastation can be heartbreaking. Many Hoosiers face the stress of out-of-pocket costs to make repairs to personal property. No Hoosier should face the additional nightmare of becoming a victim of fraud. I strongly urge all Hoosiers to double check a company's name, reputation, history and authenticity before writing a check to a person claiming to represent such a business."
Attorney General Hill offered several tips to Hoosiers:
-Avoid agreeing to any repair or restoration work on the spot during initial contact with someone offering services.
-Avoid signing any contracts or other legally binding agreements without first gathering information and researching a business being represented.
-Obtain information about the individual offering his or her services.
-Research any company an individual claims to represent.
-Look for signs of credibility such as an official website.
-Seek reviews and testimonials from former customers.
"The best decision is an informed decision," Attorney General Hill said.
If you believe you have been scammed -- or suspect someone may be trying to scam you -- contact the Office of the Indiana Attorney General. You can file a complaint by visiting indianaconsumer.com or calling 1-800-382-5516.
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