In 2015 alone, there were more than 19,000 reports of severe weather involving tornadoes, wind, or hail.* Though most view the storm aftermath as a tragedy, storm-chaser scam artists view it as an opportunity. With plenty of unsuspecting victims expecting an inspection on their home soon after the storm, how are scam artists differentiated from legitimate inspectors? Read on for tips to help identify frauds and protect yourself from becoming a scam artist victim.
Tip #1 – Be Aware
Storm scammers often travel to affected neighborhoods and look for distressed homeowners.
- Be wary of scammers pretending to be your insurance company requesting personal information over the phone.
- Scammers may tell you they’ve been sent by your insurance company, but your insurance company will alert you before a contractor or other worker is sent.
- Other common scams include subpar work and materials, price-gouging and advance payment for work that is never completed.
Tip #2 – Protect Your Property
Don’t settle for the first bid, especially if a contractor contacts you.
- Make temporary repairs to protect your home from further damage, and keep your receipts.
- Get at least two written estimates to ensure you’re not the victim of price gouging, and compare them carefully. Make sure to ask if there's a charge for estimates.
Tip #3 – Report Your Claim
Contact your insurance agent or claims center as soon as possible.
- If the storm or disaster was significant, teams of claims adjusters may be mobilized to speed the process.
- Your claims adjuster will determine the scope of the damage, which can help you determine if a contractor's estimate is reasonable.
- Your adjuster may be able to make a contractor recommendation.
Tip #4 – Do Your Research
Checking a contractor’s background can help you save time, money and heartache.
- Check a contractor’s track record through your local Better Business Bureau, Home Builders Association, or insurance claims adjuster.
- Ask to see a contractor’s license, local operating permit, and certificates of insurance for property, liability and workers compensation coverages.
- Ask for references and check with other customers to be sure they were satisfied.
Tip #5 – Get it in Writing
Get everything in writing, not just the cost.
- This includes scope of work, timeline, guarantees and payment schedule.
- If you don’t understand something, ask for an explanation.
- Be sure to mark through any blank lines.
Tip #6 – Save Full Payment for When the Work is Done
Reputable contractors will not ask for full payment before the work is complete.
- A small initial deposit is reasonable.
- Know if you’re expected to pay the contractor(s) directly or if your insurance company will.
Tip #7 – Review Your Coverage
While home insurance and car insurance policies generally cover storm damage, it’s a good idea to review your coverage.
- Schedule a SuperCheck with your Farm Bureau agent before storm season.
- Understand the losses your specific policy covers.
*NOAA Storm Prediction Center, data as of December 31, 2015 http://www.spc.noaa.gov/climo/online/monthly/2015_annual_summary.html