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Right on the Money: How to avoid contractor fraud

You should know things have changed regarding the way property insurance claims are handled.

DALLAS — Looking at all the damage and destruction after the recent North Texas tornadoes, if you've been affected, you may start to wonder: "Where do I even begin?" 

How about here:

You should know things have changed regarding the way property insurance claims are handled. It used to be common that repairs and replacements came a wink, a nod and "price adjustments" to make it so the property owner doesn't really end up paying their deductible. Now, the state is trying to crack down on dubious insurance claims.

A new Texas law went into effect in September, penalizing contractors who engage in these wink-and-nod type transactions. It also requires property owners to show proof they’ve paid their deductible, or your insurer doesn't have to cover your claim.

Here’s the legalese from the statute:

The contractor can't pay, waive, absorb or otherwise decline to charge or collect your deductible; they can't get the money back to you by offering you a rebate or a credit (like by giving you a break in exchange for putting their sign in your yard after they do the job; that's a common workaround).

RELATED: Better Business Bureau warns tornado victims to watch out for scammers

Taking part in the wink-and-nod schemes is considered insurance fraud. Even with a new law against deductible dodging, some contractors will offer it. 

Experts say: Run. 

If these companies are willing to break the law to get your business, then that means they are willing to cut corners that will likely cost you money in the long run.

RELATED: Right on the Money: Great eats and effective emails

Here are six things that should be on your to-do list to help avoid contractor fraud. These come from a couple of sources, including the Texas Department of Insurance:

  • Get written estimates on company letterhead with clear contact information.
  • Get more than one bid to gauge which ones are too high or too good to be true.
  • Check references and phone numbers.
  • Beware of those who only have out-of-town references or solicit door to door.
  • Don't pay in full up front, and don’t make a final payment until the job is done.
  • Never sign a contract with blanks on it.

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