BBB Advisory: Beware of “Storm Chasers” Preying on Victims

  
     
May 17, 2017

Strong storms with potentially flooding downpours, tornadoes, powerful winds, and hail have been making their way across the state this storm season. They leave massive damage to homes and businesses in their wake, including downed trees and power lines, damage to roofs, homes, cars and fences.

 

“Home and business owners who suffer damage to their property should carefully research companies before making a final decision,” said Kitt Letcher, president and CEO of BBB.  “With the diverse and severe weather that Oklahoma receives, storm related damage is increasingly common. The likelihood of scammers and unethical businesses taking advantage of consumers increases when severe weather comes through our state. Comparing companies and researching the market ensures that you will not become a victim.” Letcher summarized, “BBB receives multiple reports and complaints related to weather related scams or scam attempts each year.”

 

Generally, these complaints focused on repair scams and insurance issues. This is because significant damage as a result of high winds and fallen trees can often draw out-of-town contractors, otherwise known as storm chasers, who solicit their repair services door-to-door. Homeowners should exercise caution when dealing with door-to-door solicitors, who may not be licensed or insured,


While some businesses may be legitimate and reputable, many are not registered to do home improvement work in the state and have not obtained the required solicitation permits for the area. This might become a problem once homeowners realize repairs weren’t done properly as the business could be hard to contact or unwilling to redo the work. 


Although everyone wants to repair their storm damage as quickly as possible, BBB urges homeowners to be patient throughout the process and take the time to check out a company before hiring them. One convenient way to research a business is to use your smart phone to see if they have a profile on bbb.org. This fast and free research tool will come in handy if a worker shows up unbidden at your door offering to start work.

 

BBB offers the following tips for consumers and businesses who have experienced storm damage:

  • Contact insurance. Check with your insurance carrier before authorizing major repairs. An adjuster may need to assess the damage and your carrier may have recommendations for repairs or contractors.
  • Check with BBB. Research a company's BBB rating and complaint history, along with checking BBB's Accredited Business Directory for a list of screened and approved companies that meet BBB standards.
  • Be wary of door-to-door workers who show up unsolicited offering to make repairs. This includes companies offering to remove fallen trees and branches. Improper removal of fallen trees could cause further damage to your home.  Ask for identification. Check their vehicle for a business name, phone number, and license plates to be sure they’re from Oklahoma.
  • 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. Be pro-active in selecting a contractor and not re-active to sales calls on the phone or door-to-door pitches. Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor.
  • Know your rights and responsibilities. Many municipalities require a solicitation permit if sales people go door-to-door.  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. Also ask your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Keep copies of receipts for emergency repairs for reimbursement later.
  • Be sure to get at least three estimates. 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.
  • Get everything in writing. Prepare a written agreement with anyone you hire that outlines the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Review it carefully before signing. Vague clauses such as “repair roof” are invitations for abuse.
  • Never pay the full amount of repairs in advance. BBB advises that you pay no more than 30% up front.   Be wary of any contractor who demands full or half payment upfront. Insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual.  Pay with a credit card if possible, which offers you more protection if the work is not completed as specified.

 

Ultimately, the best way to ensure you are making a smart investment is to start with companies you can trust by going to bbb.org. To be certain that the workers are registered and licensed, use the BBB search engine to view a list of accredited businesses in your area. You can also use the website to report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices with the BBB ScamTracker at bbb.org/scamtracker.