The recent damage from the storm system which spawned tornadoes in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, and surrounding areas is bringing out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help others in need. Unfortunately, the aftermath of a crisis also brings out contractors who take advantage of those who have already been victimized. Although East Texas was not affected by this week’s storms, BBB reminds residents that tornado season is far from over and warns consumers to be on the lookout for storm chasers, individuals who follow severe weather hoping to get business from victims whose homes have been damaged by storms.
“These fly by night repair businesses will solicit work, often door-to-door, in unmarked trucks”, said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas. “Wanting to make a quick buck, they follow weather reports and often arrive in town before the storm even hits, ready to pounce on storm victims as soon as the weather breaks.”
When looking for a contractor you can trust and when seeking to aid to relief efforts, BBB recommends that homeowners and donors do the following:
Do your homework. BBB has Business Reviews on tens of thousands of contractors—good and bad—across the US. Make sure the company has a good track record and has a history of responding to complaints if and when they receive them.
Recognize the red flags. Beware of any contractor who uses high pressure sales tactics or requires full payment upfront. Also avoid contractors who require you to get the necessary permits. When looking to make a donation, be cautious about online giving, especially in response to spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. In response to the previous natural disasters, there were concerns raised about many Web sites and new organizations that were created overnight allegedly to help victims.
Vet the contractor carefully. Verify the business meets all state and local requirements including being licensed, insured and bonded. Also ask the business for references from recent jobs. Confirm whether or not the contractor will be subcontracting the job or relying on their own employees.
Seek at least three bids. Beware of low-ball estimates that may potentially balloon over time or foreshadow shoddy work to come.
Make sure everything is in writing. Make sure that the full scope of the work is explained in the contract including cleanup and disposal of waste. All verbal agreements need to be included in the written agreement. Pay close attention to the payment terms, estimated price of materials and labor and any warranties or guarantees.
Find trustworthy charities when aiding to relief. BBB urges donors to make sure their donations will go to legitimate and reputable charities and relief efforts that have the capability to help those in need. Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other Web sites, as they might not have fully researched the listed relief organizations. Interested donors should visit bbb.org to research charities and relief organizations to verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.
For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, please call the BBB Hotline: (903)581-8373.