Scam victims sought
Sociologists study contractor fraud in La.
“We’ve been getting a lot of reports about contractor fraud,” Deborah Cotton, LouisianaRebuilds’ editor in chief, said Friday.
Cotton said some of LSU’s sociologists are helping her organization with an online survey that will be conducted through the end of this month.
LSU sociology professor Rick Weil said he hopes that results of the survey would be published this spring.
“We want information that will show us which groups are most vulnerable,” Weil said. “I’m hoping we’ll be able to get some stuff on that.”
Announcement of the survey came from the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, a nonprofit civil-rights organization cooperating with LouisianaRebuilds.
Cotton said contractor fraud is thought to spike after damaging hurricanes strike Louisiana.
But high prices alone are not evidence of fraud, Cotton said.
“Prices for all rebuilding materials were inflated after the storms,” she noted.
“They got inflated and never went down. I think that happens in any region where there’s a disaster.”
Cotton added, however, that many homeowners in south Louisiana have been victimized by some contractors, who set them up for civil suits and the filing of liens against their property.
“They (unethical contractors) are taking all the money (for a particular repair) and not paying their subcontractors,” Cotton said. “The subcontractors then file liens against the homeowners.”
She said it is difficult to sell a home that has a lien pending against it.
Cotton said homeowners can protect themselves from that scam by refusing to hire any contractor who does not sign a lien waiver. Such waivers specify that the contractor — and only the contractor — is responsible for paying all subcontractors, she said.
In some cases, Cotton said, homeowners have not been able to complete repairs because contractors simply took their money, then did shoddy or no work.
Although most survey participants will file their responses over the Internet, Cotton said, survey teams also will go door-to-door in lower-income neighborhoods where residents generally have limited access to computers.
She said the door-to-door efforts will be limited to the New Orleans area, while the online survey can be taken by homeowners across southern Louisiana.
A link to the joint survey is on the group’s home page at: http://www.louisianarebuilds.info/.
For more information, Cotton said, homeowners may send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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