Spring brings not only April showers to Indiana but also greater chances of high winds, lightning strikes and other forms of severe weather.Any type of storm damage is certainly an inconvenience and increases the likelihood that storm chasers will show up in your neighborhood. These individuals see the aftermath as an opportunity to scam unsuspecting homeowners out of their money by promising to repair the damage. Many will travel to locations affected by severe weather and promise home repairs at inflated costs – and then do little (if any) of the work.
With plenty of homeowners expecting an inspection on their home soon after the storm, how can you differentiate storm scammers from legitimate inspectors? Learn to identify fraudulent behavior and protect yourself from becoming a victim of a scam artist.
1. Be Aware of Storm Chasers
Storm chasers often travel to affected neighborhoods and look for distressed homeowners who have experienced damage.
- Be wary of storm scammers pretending to be your insurance company requesting personal information over the phone. Only provide personal information if you have picked up the phone and made the call.
- Storm scammers may tell you they’ve been sent by your insurance company, but your insurance company will alert you before a contractor or other worker is sent.
- Other common scams include sub-par work and materials, price-gouging and advance payment for work that is never completed.
- Do not fall for high-pressure tactics such as the claim that you’ll get the best deal by agreeing to hire contractor immediately on the spot.
- Do not sign documents or agree to any repair work on the spot during initial contact with someone offering services. Instead, simply obtain the person’s contact information.
2. Protect Your Property from Storm Scams
Don’t settle for the first bid, especially if a contractor contacts you.
- Make temporary repairs to protect your home from further damage and keep your receipts.
- Get at least two written estimates to ensure you’re not the victim of price gouging and compare them carefully. Be sure to ask if there's a charge for estimates – reputable contractors will provide estimates for free.
- Avoid letting the emotional toll of a situation influence decisions about repairing or replacing items that are damaged or lost.
- Do not provide access to your home to any stranger offering to perform a free inspection. Among other possible dangers, unethical contractors have been known to secretly cause damage to homes in order to then repair it.
3. Report Your Storm Damage Claim
Contact your insurance agency right away to report your claim and find out your terms of coverage. Ask whether your insurance company recommends any repair company.
- If the storm or disaster was significant, teams of claims adjusters may be mobilized to speed the process.
- Your claims adjuster will determine the scope of the damage, which can help you determine if a contractor's estimate is reasonable.
- Your adjuster may be able to make a contractor recommendation.
4. Do Your Research
Checking a contractor’s background can help you save time, money and heartache.
- Research any business or individual offering services. Look for signs of credibility such as official websites. Seek reviews and testimonials from former customers.
- Avoid storm scammers by checking a contractor’s track record through your local Better Business Bureau, Home Builders Association, or insurance claims adjuster.
- A reputable contractor will be licensed and bonded, and will be able to supply local operating permits, and certificates of insurance for property, liability and workers compensation coverages.
- If a contractor claims they are from the government, check their ID. Jot down the information they provide and verify their information.
5. Get it in Writing
Get the details of your contract in writing, not just the cost estimation.
- This includes scope of work, timeline, guarantees and payment schedule.
- If you don’t understand something, ask for an explanation.
- Be sure to mark through any blank lines.
- Keep a copy for yourself and refer to it as work progresses.
6. Wait to “Pay in Full” until Repairs are Complete
Reputable contractors will not ask for full payment before the work is complete.
- A small initial deposit is reasonable. Determine who will pay the contractor for the work: you or your insurance company. If you pay the contractor, save receipts for reimbursement by your insurance company.
- Do not sign over insurance checks directly to repair companies. Rather, obtain the invoices yourself and pay repair companies directly.
7. Review Your Insurance Coverage
While home insurance and car insurance policies generally cover storm damage, it’s a good idea to review your coverage. Be proactive before severe weather hits.
- Schedule an account review with your insurance advisor.
- Understand the losses your specific policy covers.
Hoosiers are encouraged to contact the Office of the Indiana Attorney General about any suspected scams. You can file a complaint by visiting indianaconsumer.com or calling 1-800-382-5516.
Your first call after a storm that causes damage should always be to your personal insurance advisor. Give us a call, or contact us here, to assess your options. If you’re a current General Insurance Services client, report your claim here. We are happy to help!