If you've been tossed around by any of the severe windstorms and gullywashers of the last few weeks, you've already suffered enough loss and there's no reason to add to the pain.

Insurance companies and even the state attorney general are warning people, especially senior citizens, to be cautious of home improvement contractors.

Severe storms often make national news headlines, and those headlines also draw scam artists from around the country to take advantage of hardship.

Attorney General Jim Petro said residents should look out for fly-by-night contractors who often arrive from out of town or out-of-state as soon as a disaster occurs.

They promise immediate or cheap home repair, clean-up or remodeling. They might ask for a big cash deposit before doing any work, then do shoddy work, add additional costs during the job, or disappear without doing any work at all.

But there is a good reason for some good faith money. Marie Brahler, vice president of Brahler's Service Team of Professionals in Bolivar, said they will often ask for the amount of the homeowner's insurance deductible.

We call it a service deposit, said Brahler, whose company specializes in helping recovery and repair of property damaged by fire, water, smoke and vandalism.

The deposit creates a relationship between the company and the customer, she said. I'm going to send out uniformed professionals and expensive equipment.

But we do not let that get in the way of things in an emergency, she said. Often, it's the middle of the night and people need emergency repairs.

And that creates another problem. The attorney general recommends getting written estimates from more than one contractor. But when it's an emergency, you don't have time to get estimates, Brahler said.

My advice would be, call your insurance agent. See what they say. Industry certifications, neighbors' advice, a company's familiar name all are signs of stability, she said.

That's also a pretty good protection against price gouging, Brahler said. If you're running by industry standard prices, you're not going to gouge because the insurance agency isn't going to allow that, she said.

Then there are the folks who pretend to be from established charities, asking for donations to help others. They may show up at your door, on your phone or in your e-mail. The money you give them won't be going to storm victims.

Homeowners want to begin rebuilding and repairing as quickly as possible, but you should know the contractor. The Better Business Bureau is often the best source for information.

You should also insist on proper identification and a contractor with a permanent place of business the Yellow Pages is a good source for that information. Ask for references and get written estimates from more than one contractor. Don't work with a company that won't give a written estimate or requires a large down payment.

n Price gouging by unscrupulous businesses that may charge extremely high and unjustified prices for products or services that disaster victims need to purchase or rent, such as roofing materials, plywood, tarps, food staples, charcoal, electrical generators, and others.

n Job opportunity scams that advertise jobs such as flood cleanup or other labor which require an advance fee payment to obtain the job. Often the money is paid in advance and no job exists.

n Advance-fee loan scams. Unless you are dealing directly with a bank or other exempt financial institution, you should not be required for a loan or credit.

This is cache, read story here