Fraud Files: Severe Storms Slam the South

Enduring a hailstorm is challenging enough, but property owners must also understand that in the wake of a severe storm, they may be visited by unethical contractors posing as sincere repairmen. Often, these characters will descend on disaster areas and go door to door offering their repair services. Although most are honest, some are not. If the dishonest ones get your money in advance of performing any work, you’ll never see them or your money again.

NICB urges storm victims to work with their insurance company and to be careful in selecting a contractor to do repairs. Do not allow someone to force you into signing a contract or paying up front for work or supplies.

More consumer protection information is available here.

NICB to Boston-Area Homeowners: Beware of Insurance Scammers

BostonSnow

Courtesy: Gene J. Puskar/AP

DES PLAINES, Ill., Feb. 12, 2015 —  As the Northeast continues to get pounded by storm after storm, there’s one more threat that Bostonians need to watch out for:  shady contractors, or “storm chasers,” looking to make a fast but fraudulent buck using your homeowners insurance. Heavy snowfalls are damaging roofs, resulting in an unusually large number of insurance claims, and those storm chasers can’t wait to get their hands on your money.

After a disaster, contractors will often go door-to-door in affected neighborhoods offering clean up, construction or other repair services. Most of these business people are reputable, but many are not. The dishonest ones may execute schemes to defraud innocent victims, such as:

  • pocketing the payment and never showing up for the job;
  • never completing a job that was started; or
  • using inferior materials and performing shoddy work that’s not up to code.

Almost all of these scams are unsolicited—they begin with a knock on the door from a contractor seeking work. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) recommends that “if you didn’t request it, reject it.” If you have storm damage, call your insurance company first.

NICB offers these tips before hiring a contractor:

  • Take pictures of your property before, during and after flooding or other damage
  • Get more than one estimate
  • Get everything in writing:  cost, work to be performed, work and payment schedules, guarantees, and any other expectations
  • Demand references and check them out
  • Ask to see the salesperson’s driver’s license and write down the license number and their vehicle’s license plate number
  • Never sign a contract with blanks; unacceptable terms could be added later
  • Never pay a contractor in full or sign a completion certificate until the work is finished and ensure reconstruction is up to current code
  • Make sure you review and understand all documents sent to your insurance carrier
  • Never let a contractor pressure you into hiring them or letting them do unnecessary work
  • Never let a contractor interpret the insurance policy language
  • Never let a contractor discourage you from contacting your insurance company

For more on disaster fraud, watch this video.