No doubt Gov. Andrew Cuomo's warning last week for New Yorkers to protect themselves against home repair scam artists will be followed up in time with press releases from the Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman recounting sad tales about how many failed to do that.
Cuomo was specifically talking about scam artists who will try to take advantage of trusting homeowners whose property was damage in Superstorm Sandy.
"Most people and businesses will be hard at work rebuilding, but sadly some dishonest people will try to take advantage of others' misfortune to make a quick dishonest buck," said Cuomo in a press statement. "You don't want to add being cheated to the damage you have already suffered from the storm.''
The need for home repairs is acute in many areas along the coast. But the governor's warning and advice should be heeded by everyone who is shopping for a home repair contractor:
Many of us here in Chautauqua County know people who have been scammed by unscrupulous "contractors" they hired to do routine types of home repair - putting on a new roof, windows or siding, for example. Surprisingly for a small community, there are instances of unscrupulous contractors staying in business year after year. They especially tend to prey on people whose homes need emergency repair - a leaky roof, for instance - but who are ripe for a ripoff because they do not have a lot of money and so are looking for good deals.
Typically these scammers put in a low bid for the project, get a substantial amount of money up front from the homeowner, and then never finish the job - leaving the homeowner with a leaky roof, no money and no way to recoup the funds or force the contractor to do the work.
As you know, the vast majority of home repair and building contractors in our area are upstanding, honest individuals. But there are few rotten apples who cheat people over and over again - making us wish they could be quickly brought up on criminal theft charges, convicted if guilty and then thrown in jail to put a stop to what they are doing.
We know this suggestion is fraught with problems and there are very good reasons why disputes between homeowners and contractors ought to remain in civil courts. In fact, the mention of criminal courts reminds us of the six prominent and internationally respected seismologists and geologists in Italy who were sentenced to prison earlier this year for manslaughter after they issued reassuring statements that turned out to be wrong before the devastating 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila.
It's just that the home repair scammers hurt people who often are already injured financially and in spirit.
There should be a quick way to put a stop to it.