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Families making storm repairs should watch out for bad contractors

Fraudulent contractors are known to target homeowners who need repairs during the summer. This week they'll find plenty of vulnerable people recovering from turbulent storms. Oswego County's district attorney offers a few tips.

Oswego (WSYR-TV) - Fraudulent contractors are known to target homeowners who need repairs during the summer. This week they'll find plenty of vulnerable people recovering from turbulent storms.

One person's tragedy may be an opportunity for a shady salesperson.

"Every year we receive at least half-a-dozen calls from homeowners who have given money to a contractor and then just never heard from them again," said Oswego County District Attorney Gregory Oakes.

The D.A. points to the case of Gene Lagoe Jr., who was ordered to pay more than $33-thousand dollars in restitution this year after taking money for home repair jobs that he never finished.

For anyone who must hire help for repairs, Oakes hopes they understand that New York State requires a contract. He says people should get everything they can in writing.

"Specifying the exact work to be performed, the time-frame when it is supposed to be performed, and the exact price including the price of materials and labor," Oakes explains.

Customers can even specify the brand of materials that they expect to be used.

Step two. Withhold the final payment.

"Contractors do need some money up front to begin purchasing materials. But, really the money should be used for the purchase of materials. The money for the contractor's labor comes out at the very end, when the final payment is made."

Oakes says many contractors devote about 50 percent of costs to materials. The rest can be paid when the job is done.

Before any money is shared, homeowners should know where their cash is going.

"Contractors in NYS are required to be bonded or else they are required to put the money in an escrow account," Oakes said. "Contractors should be notifying the homeowner when they are making withdrawals out of that account for that project."

If the money isn't deposited, it could help the district attorney build a case against a bad contractor.

"We have to show...what was the contractor's state of mind, when they actually took the money, did they ever have an intention to actually do the work, or was their intention to take the money and run?" Oakes said.

The tips are tools to help people hold a bad contractor responsible in the legal system.

Anyone who thinks they've been working with a fraudulent contractor can file a report with police. The district attorney's office can work with police to determine if the violations constitute a civil case or if criminal charges should be filed.

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