Natural disasters bring out the best in people, as we pull together to help friends and neighbors. We've seen that with the damage caused by the high winds which hit Kentucky and Southern Indiana last weekend, knocking our power, knocking down trees and damaging homes, businesses and automobiles.
Unfortunately, the aftermath of a crisis also brings out persons who take advantage of others' misfortune. Some of the most common "after-disaster" scams involve home repairs, clean-up efforts, heating and cooling equipment, and flood-damaged cars. The Better Business Bureau has the following advice for consumers:
- Contact your insurance adjuster immediately. Not only does this get the ball rolling on the claims process, but you might be eligible for loss-of-use benefits, which means you could be reimbursed for hotel costs, food, and other living expenses while your house is unlivable.
- Document the damage to your property and possessions thoroughly; take pictures or video if possible. Go from room to room and create a detailed account of your belongings.
- Make any minor repairs to limit further damage to the home. You may be liable for damage that occurs after a storm has passed, so make temporary repairs, such as boarding up broken windows or throwing a tarp over a leaky roof.
- Keep all your receipts spent on supplies and living expenses for future reimbursement.
- Do not make any permanent repairs until you get approval from your insurance company. Your insurer might not fully reimburse you for repairs made without their authorization.
- Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid acting in haste. Don't be pressured into signing a long-term contract. Make temporary repairs if necessary.
- For major permanent repairs, take time to shop around for contractors, get competitive bids, check out references, and get a report from the BBB.
- Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage in your home, have an engineer, architect, or building official inspect it.
- Prepare a written agreement with anyone you hire. It should delineate the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Review it carefully before signing. Never pay for all repairs in advance, and don't pay cash.
Prepare Now for Future Disasters
Whether or not you were affected by the recent high winds, the reminder of what natural disasters can bring gives us all reason to prepare for any future disaster. Here are tips from the BBB to help you be ready in the event of a future natural disaster.
When facing the prospect of any type of natural disaster, make sure you have the following disaster supplies on hand:
- FLASHLIGHT AND EXTRA BATTERIES
- PORTABLE, BATTERY-OPERATED RADIO AND EXTRA BATTERIES
- FIRST AID KIT AND FIRST AID MANUAL
- NON-PERISHABLE FOOD AND WATER
- NONELECTRIC CAN OPENER
- ESSENTIAL MEDICINES OR PRESCRIPTIONS
- CASH AND CREDIT CARDS
- DURABLE SHOES AND APPROPRIATE CHANGE OF CLOTHING
- BLANKETS, BEDDING, OR SLEEPING BAGS
Make sure you carry your policy numbers and contact information for your insurance company with you at all times.
Read your homeowners policy carefully, including all the fine print, so you’ll know what is and isn’t covered, especially what you’re entitled to following a disaster and what type of reimbursement or replacement you rate. And make sure you know when the deadline is on filing claims.
Consider now whether you should purchase equipment such as a portable electric generator. You'll have better luck finding a good selection at a time when most people aren't buying such equipment than you will if you wait until every stores' inventory of generators has been cleaned out after a widespread power outage.
A few more preparedness tips:
- Create and maintain an inventory of your personal possessions. This includes taking pictures or creating a video, as well as keeping receipts for major items. The inventory should be saved in a safe place outside the home, such as in a safe deposit box at your bank.