In 2016 alone, there were more than 20,200 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 can you differentiate storm scammers from legitimate inspectors? Read on for tips to help identify frauds and protect yourself from becoming a scam artist victim.
Tip #1 – Be Aware of Storm Scammers
Storm scammers often travel to affected neighborhoods and look for distressed homeowners who have experienced damage.
- Be wary of storm scammers pretending to be your insurance company requesting personal information over the phone.
- Storm 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 sub-par work and materials, price-gouging and advance payment for work that is never completed.
Tip #2 – Protect Your Property from Storm Scams
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 Storm Damage 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.
- Avoid storm scammers by checking 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.
- If a contractor claims they are from the government, check their ID.
- Ask for references and check with other customers to be sure they were satisfied.
- If they claim they are endorsed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), watch out! You could be walking into a storm damage scam because FEMA doesn’t endorse contractors.
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 Storm Damage is Fixed
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 Insurance Coverage
While home insurance and car insurance policies generally cover storm damage, it’s a good idea to review your coverage.
*NOAA Storm Prediction Center, data as of December 31, 2016