10 Ways to Out-Smart Storm Chaser Scams

scam-alertAfter a disaster, people in the effected area are often re-victimized by scam artists masquerading as helpers. These “storm chasers” move from state to state following severe weather events. Some abscond with their victim’s cash without doing any work; others make shoddy repairs and charge the amount your insurer is willing to pay for excellent work. Your main weapons against these criminals are awareness and common sense, but here are some tips to make you an even tougher target.

Don't assume your weather event has to be national news to attract criminals

Storm chasers can use web searches or monitor reports by the National Weather Service to determine where hail, high winds and other damaging events have occurred.

Beware of anyone going door to door or showing up unannounced

Storm chasers tend to troll door to door in a damaged area, offering to start work immediately in exchange for full payment up front. Stick with established local firms you've contacted yourself. In past disasters, criminals have posed as employees of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) . Small Business Administration, local building code inspectors and insurance adjusters. If anyone approaches you, make sure you examine his or her identification carefully and feel free to photograph it with your smart phone. Remember, no government employee will ask you for filing fees or any other money for providing disaster relief services.

Don't agree to any repairs until an insurance adjuster has seen your damage

Fraudulent contractors may “find” damage that doesn't exist. Plus, your insurance company's estimate of the damage will give you a good baseline to compare work estimates.

Don't pay for the work up front, or with cash

The quickest way for a storm chaser to score is to give you a bogus estimate, then ask for payment for the entire job in advance. Then they can either do shoddy work or just disappear with your money. Legitimate contractors will need some advance money for materials (usually about one-fourth to one-third of the total price), but will only ask for it as part of a signed contract. Always pay with a check or debit/credit card, never with cash, and don't pay the full price until the work is done to your satisfaction.

Don't accept “free work” or agree to let your contractor pay your deductible

File these under “too good to be true.” These tactics are intended to lure you into a bad deal or are part of an insurance fraud scheme.

Check even legitimate contractors out thoroughly

Make sure they're:
  • Properly licensed. You can find your state's licensing database at nascla.org
  • Have a good record with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Willing to provide references from both customers and suppliers. A supplier who isn't paid for materials can place a lien on your home or business.

Get multiple estimates

Even when you're sure the contractors are legitimate, there's no substitute for multiple bids.

Have a written contract, and read it carefully

Don't sign any contract that has gaps in it where new provisions or numbers could be written in after the fact. Make sure your contract has specific details on the work, materials to be used and when payments must be made.

When in doubt, alert the authorities

Better to raise a false alarm than become a victim or let a criminal go on to victimize others.

Prepare ahead of time

Be familiar with your insurance coverage and claim procedures. Consider choosing a disaster recovery firm today while you're stress free and can take your time checking their references and capabilities. If disaster strikes, they'll be able to repair your property right away and you'll have the peace of mind of knowing you're working with a trustworthy and well-qualified firm. Download your free home disaster planning eBook  


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