The storms that blow through during this time of year can leave downed trees and other damage in their wake. That's when "storm chasers" appear. These scam contractors prey on homeowners by promising repairs, collecting a fee and failing to deliver.
How the Scam Works:
A major windstorm just blew through your city, knocking a tree onto your roof. The next day, a contractor appears at your door. You are generally suspicious of door-to-door salespeople, but this offer is very tempting. The contractor gives you a great price, and, if you commit now, he can begin work the next day.
The contractor will either want upfront payment or for you to sign a contract allowing the business to negotiate with your homeowners insurance on your behalf. Do this, and your entire insurance check may go to the storm chaser regardless of the quality or quantity of work completed.
After approving the work, several things may happen. Some storm chasers complete the job as described. However, poor craftsmanship and materials mean that you need the roof repaired again a few months later, when the business has moved on to a new storm-damaged region. In more extreme cases, contractors may simply take your payment, completing part or none of the work, and disappear.
Tips to Protect Yourself From "Storm Chaser" Scams:
When a storm hits, follow these tips to ensure that any repairs go smoothly.
- Get three to four quotes: The storm chasers will try to pressure you into making a decision immediately. Don't fall for it. Just as you would for a standard home improvement project, get at least three quotes before making a decision.
- Check references: Get references from several past customers. Make sure these are at least a year old, so you can check on the quality of the work.
- Check bbb.org: BBB Business Reviews are more than just a grade. You can also read past complaints from customers, find out about licensing and government actions, and more.
- Make sure it's legal: Confirm that any business being considered for hire is licensed and registered to do work in your area. Also, if in doubt, request proof of a current insurance certificate from a contractor's insurance company.
- Get it in writing: And always be sure to get a written contract with the price, materials and timeline. The more detail, the better.