Storms that blow through this time of year can leave broken windows, damaged roofs, downed trees and other destruction in their wake. In the wake of the recent storm that hit central Alberta hard, “storm chasers” might start to appear.
These scam contractors prey on homeowners by promising repairs, collecting a fee and failing to deliver. Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning homeowners affected by storms and natural disasters to beware of these “storm chasers” and out-of-town contractors soliciting businesses. Although not all storm chasers are scammers, there may be other issues, such as lacking the proper licensing for your area, offering quick fixes, or making big promises on which they can’t deliver.
“It’s stressful enough rebuilding after a disaster,” says Ron Mycholuk, Public Relations Manager for BBB of Central and Northern Alberta. “But what happens if you can’t trust the people fixing your home, let BBB help you find someone you can trust.”
How the scam works:
A major storm blows through your city, wreaking havoc on your roof. The next day, a contractor appears at your door. You are generally suspicious of door-to-door salespeople, but the contractor gives you a great price, and—if you commit now—work can begin tomorrow!
The contractor will either want upfront payment or a signed contract allowing the business to negotiate with your homeowners insurance on your behalf. If you do so, your entire insurance check may go to the storm chaser regardless of the quality or quantity of work completed.
Some storm chasers complete the job as described. But sometimes 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 the worst-case scenario, the contractor simply takes your payment, completes little-to-none of the work, and takes off.
BBB offers the following tips to protect yourself from “Storm Chaser” scams:
- Do your research. Find businesses you can trust on bbb.org. We have BBB Business Profiles on more than a million home contractors, which are more than just a grade. You can also read past complaints from customers, find out about licensing and government actions, and more. You can also check your state or provincial government agency responsible for registering and/or licensing contractors.
- Get multiple estimates. Just as you would for a standard home improvement project, get at least three quotes before making a decision. Get quotes in writing, don’t accept estimates over the phone, and be wary of very low estimates, which could set up a “bait and switch” tactic.
- Resist high-pressure sales. Some storm chasers use tactics such as the “good deal” you’ll get only if you hire the contractor on the spot. Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. Be especially careful of door-to-door contractors. Many municipalities require a solicitation permit if sales people go door-to-door. Ask for identification. Check the vehicle for a business name, phone number, and license plates for your state or province.
- Be wary about unseen spaces. While most contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing someone you do not know to inspect your roof. An unethical contractor may actually create damage to get work. This may apply to roofs, attics, crawl spaces, ducts, and other places you cannot easily access or see for yourself.
- Make sure it’s legal. Confirm that any business being considered for hire is licensed and registered to do work in your area. Request proof of a current insurance certificate from a contractor’s insurance company. Check with your town or municipality to see what permits contractors need to work on your property. Check with your insurance company to make sure your liability insurance covers falls or injuries to contractors.
- Get a written contract. Make sure it specifies the price, the work to be done and who will do it, the amount of liability insurance coverage maintained by the contractor, and a time frame.
- 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.
- Be particular about payment. Don’t pay for the job in advance. Be wary of any contractor who demands full or half payment upfront. Insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual. Pay by credit card, if possible; you may have additional protection if there’s a problem.