By Matt HackworthChurch World Service
SLIDELL, LA -- Just after Hurricane Katrina pushed a devastating storm surge into the city's subdivisions, Ida and Austin Beasley received an offer of help from a fellow church member.
The Beasleys, who live on a fixed retired income in a modest, brown Cape Cod-style home, thought the $3,000 offer to remove and replace flood-damaged drywall was a bargain from a parishioner who could be trusted. Instead, the Beasleys ended up with drywall of mismatched thicknesses, gaping joints between the panels and a total depletion of what little funds they had to rebuild.
"They didn't have flood insurance, and after they got scammed, we didn't know what to do," said Suzie Carrier, the Beasleys' daughter.
More and more people like the Beazleys, who fall victim to predatory contractor schemes, are turning to authorities for help. Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti, Jr. said his office receives around 125 contractor fraud claims a week.
The number of complaints is rising, perhaps because outreach efforts are bolstering disaster survivors to take action. A vibrant billboard campaign stands out to motorists along south Louisiana roadways, asking for reports of scams ("CALL NOW") and warning those who might try them ("WE'RE WATCHING"). In Orleans Parish, a mobile complaint center frequents home center parking lots to take complaints from storm victims almost able to return home but for a scam.
"They're in shock, in a very vulnerable state," said Church World Service Disaster Relief and Recovery Liaison (DRRL) Tom Davis. "The contractors who are able to scam come in pretty quickly, and come in when people's ability to reason is at its lowest. A traumatized person whose home has been destroyed or whose roof has been blown off, they're just tunneling in on their need" without paying attention to critical details, such as contracts.
Davis, who has responded to disasters across the United States, noted how scamming contractors strategize to prey around when government aid or insurance settlements put checks in homeowner's hands. As homeowners in Mississippi and Louisiana prepare to receive $10.5 billion in recovery grants, attorneys general in both states are offering fill-in-the-blank examples of home repair contracts to residents, and warning against paying up front or in cash for work.
For the Beasleys, their brush with a contractor scam was too much for their daughter to handle. Suzie Carrier moved her family from Indiana back home to Slidell, where she spends her days painting the newly, and correctly, installed drywall in her parent's house, an effort to erase the physical reminders of an emotional predator. The Church Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), in partnership with Church World Service, secured materials and provided labor to make the Beasleys' home livable again.
"Without their help, I really don't know what we would have done," Carrier said
Contractor charged with bilking customers
03:59 PM CDT on Tuesday, May 30, 2006
A Texas contractor accused of bilking a Slidell homeowner out of $60,000 turned himself in to St. Tammany Parish authorities Tuesday.
Gary Holland, 39, is charged with seven counts of theft over $500 in the case and St. Tammany Parish officials say more charges are anticipated in other cases.
Anyone who thinks they may be a victim of Holland or any other contractor is urged to call Detective Keith Dowling at 985-645-2454.
St. Tammany Parish deputies said Holland’s last known address was in Cypress, Texas.
Report it if you think you've been taken advantage of! Start with your local police and move your way up the food chain to the Chamber of Commerce, The Better Business Bureau and your state's Attorney General.