How to avoid being ripped off by so-called contractors, plumbers after historic winter storm

KATY, Texas – Lesley Cruz is a hardworking, single mother from Katy, raising two young children inside a house that’s been ravaged by broken water pipes and heavy water damage following Houston’s historic winter storm.

“The pipes upstairs burst and it was just like, water pouring, flooding into our house,” she said. “It was like a waterfall coming from the ceiling.”

“We still have no water in the house,” Cruz added. “We have to use water bottles to brush our teeth and we can’t even take a shower.”

Cruz is already living one disaster and, now, she is trying to avoid another one. She is afraid of being taken by a fly-by-night contractor or plumber.

“I just don’t know if I’m going to get ripped-off or if I’m going to have to end up paying someone else to come out and do the same job all over again,” she said.

Napoliello’s rules

Leah Napoliello is a scam expert with the Better Business Bureau of Houston and South Texas who said this is the perfect time for con artists to come knocking at your door.

“Whenever there is any kind of disaster, unfortunately, we always see the scammers come out of the woodwork,” Napoliello said.

Napoliello’s job is to help consumers avoid being ripped off by shady contractors, plumbers and others, who are out to grab your money, and she has several rules you should follow to avoid them.

“First of all, you should never hire someone on the spot, if they come to your front door”, Napoliello said.

1. Avoid high-pressure sales tactics. Stay away from contractors who come to your door and want you to hire them immediately.

2. Ask the contractor or plumber to give you a written contract that specifies the exact work to be done, the start and finish date for the project and the materials that will be bought and used to do the job.

3. Ask the contractor, plumber or company representative to give you proof of insurance and a list of several recent customers that you can contact for a review of the company’s work.

Hiring a plumber

When it comes to hiring a plumber, master plumber Michael Villasana at Village Plumbing and Air said there are 3 vital questions you need to ask right off the bat before hiring anyone to work inside your precious home.

“The first question should be if they are licensed, and every plumber should have a license and have it on them, in their pocket or in their truck and be willing to show it to you immediately”, Villasana said.

“The second question is whether or not the company is insured, and the third is if the company is bonded,” Villasana said. “It’s all for your protection.”

In addition, Michael said every plumber should have a plumber’s license number printed somewhere on the truck they are driving. It’s usually on the bumper or on the side of the truck.

“If the plumber you are talking to doesn’t have that license number printed on their vehicle for all to see, then you should turn that so-called plumber away,” Villasana said. “I wouldn’t let that person in my house, let alone, let him touch my plumbing.”

Advice from a prosecutor

Valerie Turner is the head of the consumer fraud unit at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and has prosecuted con artists in the construction field for years. Her advice is to do an internet search on anyone who wishes to do work on your home before you hire them.

“If they have gotten into trouble with their customers in the past, you are bound to find information on that,” Turner said. “There could be posts on social media. There could be groups of angry customers out there.”

“I would recommend going to the Better Business Bureau website and doing a search of the contractor you are thinking of hiring,” she added.

You can access the BBB’s website here.

More from the experts

Hear more expert advice on how to avoid scammers after a storm.
A Harris County prosecutor tells you how to avoid being scammed after a storm.

About the Author:

Emmy-winning investigative reporter, insanely competitive tennis player, skier, weightlifter, crazy rock & roll drummer (John Bonham is my hero). Husband to Veronica and loving cat father to Bella and Meemo.