In 2021 alone, there were more than 18,400 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. Many will travel to locations affected by severe weather and promise repairs at inflated costs – and then do little (if any) repairs.
With plenty of unsuspecting victims expecting an inspection on their property soon after the storm, how can you differentiate storm scammers from legitimate inspectors? Identify frauds and protect yourself from becoming a victim of a scam artist.
Tip #1 – Be Aware of Storm Scammers
Storm scammers often travel to affected neighborhoods and look for distressed property owners who have experienced damage.
- Be wary of storm scammers pretending to be your insurance company requesting personal information over the phone. Only provide personal information if you have picked up the phone and made the call.
- 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 property 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. Be sure to ask if there's a charge for estimates – reputable contractors will provide estimates for free.
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.
- A reputable contractor will be licensed and bonded, and will be able to supply local operating permits, and certificates of insurance for property, liability and workers compensation coverages.
- If a contractor claims they are from the government, check their ID. Jot down the information they provide and verify their information.
- Check out online reviews on independent websites. If they claim they are endorsed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), think twice. (FEMA doesn’t endorse contractors.)
Tip #5 – Get it in Writing
Get the details of your contract in writing, not just the cost estimation.
- 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.
- Keep a copy for yourself and refer back to it as work progresses.
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.
- Determine who will pay the contractor for the work: you or your insurance company. If you pay the contractor, save receipts for reimbursement by your insurance company.
Tip #7 – Review Your Insurance Coverage
While property insurance and car insurance policies generally cover storm damage, it’s a good idea to review your coverage. Be proactive before severe weather hits.
- Schedule a SuperCheck® with your local Farm Bureau agent before storm season.
- Understand the losses your specific policy covers.
Your local Farm Bureau agent is here to help. When you have damage to your property, your agent should be your first phone call. They will be able to help you with the claims process, and may help you find a local contractor for the work.