Spring storms bring out scammers. BBB warns homeowners to beware of storm chasers

May 14, 2014


Buffalo, NY – We know the old saying, Spring showers bring May flowers, but Spring weather can also become severe as many Yates and Erie county residents experienced this week. Storms with high winds caused downed trees, flooding and power outages, leaving some homeowners with severe property damage. Spring weather has the potential for natural disasters and BBB knows from experience these weather events are a calling card for scammers. Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York warns homeowners to be on the lookout for imposters and to use extreme caution if you need to hire home repair contractors.

“If you are hit by storm damage, you don’t need to be hit by a scam artist, too,” said Warren Clark, President of BBB serving Upstate New York. “General contracting is one of our highest complaint areas. Too often consumers find out after they’ve hired a fly-by-night operation that may have an F rating, or areleft high and dry after making a cash deposit.”

Storms attract traveling workers offering their services and commonly known as “storm chasers.” BBB is urging consumers to use caution when hiring repair and clean up companies, since not all of them will be reputable. Depending on how severe the weather damage is, “storm chasers” may arrive from out-of-state offering to “help.” After the winds die down, scammers will go door-to-door with flyers advertising their services, offering to work with your insurance company, or offer on-the-spot help.

Storms often make contractors in high demand and emotions can get in the way of clear decision making. BBB reminds consumers to be wary of low prices and fast repairs since some businesses may not be able to stand behind their work. It’s important to consider if you hire someone from out of state, who will service the warranty if problems arise later?

“Consumers need to ask questions even in dire situations and hang onto their cash until they have all the answers and confidence the jobs will be done right,” added Clark. “It pays to do your homework and find one of the many reputable local contractors that can make repairs and still be around for service after the job is complete.”

BBB offers the following tips to homeowners who suffer property damage:

  • Check with 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.
  • Stay calm. Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Don't be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Make temporary repairs if necessary.
  • Shop for Trust. Ask your family and friends for references. Contact bbb.org for a Business Review. For major repairs – take your time. Get three competitive bids and references for companies that have been in business for at least one year.
  • Stay clear of door-to-door offers. Workers that come knocking with claims of left-over repair materials from a job “down the street” or who do not have a permanent place of business should raise a red flag. If workers show up claiming that your home is unsafe, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it if you’re concerned about structural damage.
  • Verify insurance. Make sure the company has liability and worker's comp insurance. If a contractor cannot provide proof of it, beware.
  • Put it in writing. Written contract agreements are always best. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor.
  • Do not use cash. Never pay for repairs in advance, and do not pay with cash or check. Credit cards offer you the best protection should something go wrong. Once your cash is gone, it’s gone.
  • Be highly suspicious of requests for cash. If a contractor asks you to pay for the entire job upfront, find another contractor. BBB experience shows that many pay-first jobs often go incomplete. It might be okay to pay a deposit for certain jobs, but only after you have checked them out and checked with a trusted friend, relative or your insurance agent to see if payment of a deposit is customary for your particular job.

Storm victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. When in doubt, contact the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org or call 800.828.5000.

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