October 5, 2016
Storms, tornadoes, floods, wild fires, and other natural disasters often bring out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help others in need. Unfortunately, the aftermath of a crisis also brings out contractors taking advantage of those who have already been victimized. Better Business Bureau is warning homeowners affected by natural disasters to beware of “storm chasers” and out-of-town contractors soliciting businesses. Although not all storm chasers are scammers, they may lack the proper licensing for your area, offer quick fixes, or make big promises they can’t deliver. BBB offers the following tips for victims of natural disasters:
Do your research. Find businesses you can trust on bbb.org. We have BBB Business Profiles on more than a million home contractors. Check your state or provincial government agency responsible for registering and/or licensing contractors.
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.
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 their vehicle for a business name, phone number, and license plates for your state or province.
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.
Know your rights and responsibilities. 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.
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.
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. Require a copy of their current certificate of insurance.
Be wary regarding places you can’t see. While most roofers 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. The same goes for attics, crawl spaces, ducts, and other places you cannot easily access or see for yourself.
BBB is also warning contractors to beware of storm chasers who offer to pay local construction companies substantial amounts of money to use the business’s established name, reputation and phone. They masquerade as a local business, collect the insurance money and then move on, leaving the real business to deal with unsatisfied customers due to bad workmanship, unfinished work or unfulfilled warranties.
Reviewed July 2017