Natural disasters often bring out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help others in need. Unfortunately, the aftermath of a crisis also brings out contractors taking advantage of those who have already been victimized. Better Business Bureau is warning homeowners affected by the recent tornadoes to beware of “storm chasers” and out-of-town contractors soliciting businesses. Although not all storm chasers are scammers, they may lack the proper licensing for your area, offer quick fixes, or make big promises they can’t deliver.
The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips for consumers and businesses looking for contractors to make repairs:
- Buy local. There are hundreds of trustworthy local contractors who will do their best to repair your home at a reasonable price.
- Be cautious of door-to-door salespeople who use high-pressure sales tactics.
- Check with your insurance carrier before making major repairs. An adjuster may need to assess the damage, and the carrier may have recommendations for repairs or contractors.
- Don’t jump on the first offer you receive. Seek at least three bids from prospective contractors based on the same specifications, materials and labor needed to complete the project.
- Ask if the company is insured against claims covering workers’ compensation, property damage and personal liability in case of accidents. Consumers should obtain the name of the insurance carrier and call to verify coverage.
- Ask if the contractor meets licensing and bonding requirements set by the state, county or city.
- Find out if permits are needed before proceeding with the work. The contractor also should be aware of any required permits.
- Ask if the contractor will provide a lien waiver upon completion of the job. A lien waiver is a statement by the contractor that all suppliers and subcontractors have been paid for their work.
- Read and understand the contract before signing. Get any verbal promises in writing, including the start and completion dates in the contract.
- Remember the rule of thirds. Pay one third at the start of the project, one third when work is 50 percent completed and one third after completion.
If your home suffered significant damage and you lost personal belongings, you may no longer have all your credit cards or personal papers that contain your Social Security number or bank account numbers. You may be at risk for identity theft.
How do you safeguard yourself from identity theft in this situation? Below are steps to take right away.
- Contact the three Credit Reporting agencies – Transunion, Equifax, and Experian – to place a fraud alert on all your account.
- Notify your bank and credit card companies of your situation.
- If you normally do online banking or manage your credit card accounts online, place alerts on each account so that you will be notified by email or text of any transaction, based on the parameters you set.
- Be sure to check your credit reports over the next several months to be sure that there is no fraudulent activity on your accounts.
- For more information on how to recover from identity theft, go to www.idtheft.gov.
BBB is also warning contractors to beware of storm chasers who offer to pay local construction companies substantial amounts of money to use the business’s established name, reputation, and phone. They masquerade as a local business, collect the insurance money and then move on, leaving the real business to deal with unsatisfied customers due to bad workmanship, unfinished work, or unfulfilled warranties.