Scammers will use any major event to their advantage, including preying on those hit by natural disasters. Texas and large parts of the country have been experiencing extreme weather, causing enormous damage.
Structures not designed to withstand heavy snow and wind have crumbled, and many have been left without electricity. One of the biggest problems facing Texans is bursting water pipes. Tap or click here to track the weather with this powerful, free live map.
When that happens, you will be on the lookout for a contractor to repair the damage as soon as possible. Having no electricity is one thing but having to go through the winter days with no water is horrible.
Safety tips to avoid disaster scams
The Better Business Bureau has some handy tips that will keep you safe during this dangerous time. The repairs on your home should be a top priority, but fraudsters can use the disaster to scam you out of money.
While some will complete the work correctly, they may have obtained the contract unethically or charge you exorbitant additional fees.
Here are some tips to stay safe during times of natural disasters:
- Contact your insurance company: Ask about your policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts, including those for food, temporary lodging, or other expenses that may be covered under your policy. Your insurance company may also have recommended contractors.
- Do your research: Find businesses you can trust on BBB.org. Check your state or provincial government agency responsible for registering and/or licensing contractors. Get references from friends and relatives.
- Don’t feel pressured into using a particular contractor: Some storm chasers use tactics such as the “good deal” you’ll get only if you hire the contractor on the spot. Be pro-active in selecting a contractor and not re-active to sales calls on the phone or door-to-door pitches. Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor.
- Be careful of opportunistic door-to-door salespeople: Many municipalities require a solicitation permit if salespeople go door-to-door. Ask for identification. Check their vehicle for a business name, phone number and license plates for your state or province.
- Never sign over insurance checks to contractors: Get an invoice from the contractor and pay them directly (preferably with a credit card, which offers additional fraud protection over other payment forms). Don’t sign any documents that give the contractor any rights to your insurance claims. If you have questions, contact your insurance company or agent.
- Be cautious of places you can’t see: While most contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing someone you do not know to inspect your roof and other areas of your house. An unethical contractor may actually create damage to get work. The same goes for attics, crawl spaces, ducts, and other places you cannot easily access or see for yourself.
Handling your insurance claim
Always make sure that your insurance company is aware of any claims or repairs and the contractor is legitimate. The Better Business Bureau warns that some contractors could pretend to be working for a local construction company but are actually just scammers.
“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,” the BBB said in an advisory.