Natural disasters, such as storms, flooding, tornadoes and earthquakes, often result in damage that requires professional help. The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers some tips to help consumers protect themselves when hiring a contractor:

●Use a licenced contractor and check references.

●Get a written estimate that includes work costs as well as taxes and other fees. Some contractors charge for the estimate.

●Make sure the contractor has proof of disability and workers’ compensation insurance.

●Ask for a written contract that states all tasks, costs, a payment schedule and a plan for applying for necessary permits. Never sign a blank contract.

●If the contractor provides guarantees, ask for it in writing.

●Pay by check. Avoid on-the-spot cash payments.

●Cancel quickly. Contracts can be cancelled within three business days of signing. Be sure to follow contract cancellation clauses and send notification by registered mail.

●Report problems or fraud to the appropriate consumer protection hotline. District residents should call 202-442-9828 or e-mail Maryland residents should call 410-528-8662 or file a complaint online. Virginia residents should call 800-552-9963 or file a complaint online.