Scammers Often Prey on Distraught Homeowners after Natural Disasters
Though the winds and rain have long gone, they have left behind flooding, downed trees and other structural and property damage in their wake. Connecticut Better Business Bureau reminds property owners who need work done to take certain precautions when cleaning up and making repair decisions.
Natural disasters such as tornados, hurricanes, floods, fires and earthquakes can bring out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help others in need.
Unfortunately, crises also bring out people who take advantage of the victims. BBB calls these “storm chasers,” and they typically arrived on the scene following floods, heavy rains and wind and blizzards. Some of the most common post-disaster scams involve auto, home and yard repairs or clean-up.
Connecticut BBB offers the following tips to homeowners who need help with property damage in the wake of Hurricane Sandy:
Check with your insurance company about 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.
Don’t make hasty decisions - 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. Be proactive when selecting a company rather than reactive to sales solicitations. Make temporary repairs if necessary.
Shop around - For major repairs, take time to get at least three estimates based on the same specifications and materials. Check references, verify licensing and registration with the Connecticut Secretary of the State, and check BBB Business Reviews at www.ct.bbb.org. There are tens of thousands of home improvement and home repair contractors that are BBB Accredited Businesses and committed to fair, honest and transparent business dealings with their customers.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is - Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have leftover materials from a nearby job or who do not have a permanent place of business. If sales people go door-to-door, check to see if your community requires them to have solicitation permits. Be wary if an uninvited contractor shows up on your doorstep and tells you that your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it.
Get everything in writing - Require a written contract with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used and a price breakdown for both labor and materials. Any promises made verbally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials and labor. Be sure the name, address, license number (if applicable) and phone number are included in the contract, along with a start and end date for the work. Once you have found a contractor, request proof of a current insurance certificate covering workman’s compensation, property damage and personal liability.
Never pay in full in advance, and do not pay cash! While many companies may ask for a deposit, BBB suggests that no more than one-third of the job be paid up front. Be sure the contract specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor. Before making the final payment, ask the contractor to show proof that all subcontractors have been paid (if not, you could be liable).
Don’t allow yourself to be coerced or frightened into making a hasty decision or choosing an unknown contractor.
For more tips you can trust and for a list of BBB Accredited Businesses, visit www.ct.bbb.org.
-Submitted by Howard Schwartz Executive Communications Director Connecticut Better Business Bureau