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CONSUMER ALERT: Beware of Unlicensed Contractors
After disasters like a tornado or hurricane getting repairs done on your home, business or even your church is a big task.
But when looking for hired help to do the repair you should beware.
Unlicensed contractors are out there scamming people, preying on them when they're at their most vulnerable.
Tips on how to avoid becoming a victim.
Leaders of the Greater First Baptist Church in Cantonment know all too well what kind of harm a fraudulent contractor can cause.
They're still dealing with fallout from a scam that happened years ago.
Joe Mack, Greater First Baptist Church: "It shoulda never happened. It's kind of embarrassing."
In 2004, Hurricane Ivan toppled the steeple, ripped up the roof, and left the sanctuary in shambles.
Then the church suffered another blow from an unlicensed contractor.
Joe Mack, Greater First Baptist Church: "You never would think that anyone would do a church that way. This is a church!"
Joe Mack is chairman of the church's trustee board.
He says Wade Longmire presented himself as a licensed contractor, did minimal work on the church, then took insurance money and ran before eventually being convicted of fraud.
"We lost $300,000 and never really recovered."
Mack says he would love to fix up the parking lot and improve conditions at the Sunday School.
But after getting cleaned out by Longmire and hiring another contractor to finish the work, the money just isn't there.
"Our Sunday School classes are all held in one room! And we had four Sunday School classes with separate walls between them. And we don't have that now."
Katherine Gay, Fraud Victim: "I trusted them they fooled me "
Katherine Gay knows what it's like to be scammed by phony contractors.
The Cleveland woman was tricked into a con that has now cost her the only home she has ever known.
It all started when a company offered to help her take out a loan and then make repairs on her home.
"I was so happy to be getting the house fixed up."
Happiness quickly turned to anger when Katherine realized the conmen had taken the loan money but did only a few of the promised repairs.
Kimberly Kepling, US Postal Inspector: "In the end they left her in worse shape then when they arrived."
Postal inspectors say Katherine was one of 42 elderly victims taken in by these men-- David Lasalla, Mitchell Jones and Chuck Cravotta
Authorities say by the time they caught the suspects - there was no money left to return to the victims.
Katherine, who could not afford the monthly loan payments, could not sell the home in the condition it was left in.
"She is going to have to move because her property is being sold. "
Authorities say you should always thoroughly research any company before giving them money.
And you should research the names of the individual people you're dealing with.