BBB Warns About “Storm Chasers” - Scammers prey on anxious homeowners

The Better Business Bureau is reminding those who experienced storm damage to take certain precautions when cleaning up and making repair decisions.

Natural disasters like tornados, hurricanes, floods, fires and earthquakes can bring out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help others in need. Unfortunately, crises also bring out persons who choose to take advantage of the victims. BBB calls these “storm chasers,” and expects to see plenty of them as consumers and businesses assess the damage from recent storms.

Some of the most common “after-storm” scams involve auto, home and yard repairs or clean-up. BBB offers the following tips to homeowners who suffered auto and/or property damage:

Contact your insurance company as soon as possible about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts, including those for food, temporary lodging, or other expenses that may be covered under your policy.

Stay calm. Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Don’t be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Be pro-active in selecting a company and not reactive to sales solicitations. Make temporary repairs if necessary.

Shop around and verify contractor licenses. For major repairs, take the time to get at least 3-4 estimates based on the same specifications and materials. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it might be suspect. Check references, verify licensing and registration, and read BBB Business Reviews at www.easternmichiganbbb.org.  There are thousands of home improvement and home repair contractors that are BBB Accredited Businesses and that are committed to fair, honest and transparent business dealings with their customers. You can check whether a contractor is licensed as required by law with your local Department of Consumer Affairs.

Be cautious if you get unsolicited repair offers. Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have left-over materials from a nearby job or who do not have a permanent place of business. If sales people go door-to-door, check to see if your community requires them to have solicitation permits. Don’t admit strangers to your home who may appear on your doorstep falsely claiming to represent government agencies, and require proof of business identity from utility workers who request access to your property. Watch out if a worker shows up on your doorstep to announce that your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage in your home, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it.

Get everything in writing. Require a written contract with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Any promises made verbally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor. Be sure their name, address, license number (if applicable) and phone number are included in the contract, along with a start and end date for the work. Once you have found a contractor, request proof of a current insurance certificate covering workman’s compensation, property damage and personal liability.

Never pay in full in advance, and never pay cash! While many companies may ask for a deposit, BBB suggests that no more than one-third of the job be paid up front. Be sure the contract specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor. Before making the final payment, ask the contractor to show proof that all subcontractors have been paid (if not, you could be liable).

Disaster and storm damage victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. For more tips you can trust and for a list of BBB Accredited Businesses in your area, visit www.bbb.org or www.easternmichiganbbb.org

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