As many victims pick up the pieces after Superstorm Sandy's destruction, they should be cautious of scammers looking to take advantage of their misfortune.
The Better Business Bureau is warning of “storm chasers” that are likely to take advantage of Superstorm Sandy victims. While some of these are legitimate businesses truly trying to help homeowners, others are scam artists aiming to profit from the misfortune of others.
Some common areas for “after-disaster” scams include auto, home, and yard repairs or clean-up, according to the BBB. Below are some tips to avoid scammers as you assess and take care of property damages:
1. Watch out for unsolicited house calls
Beware of door-to-door workers offering services at lower prices and a quicker turnaround than others. The BBB says workers who claim to have left-over materials from a nearby job or can’t identify their permanent place of business should signal a red flag for consumers.
2. Consult your insurance company first
Before shopping around for contractors, consult your homeowners insurance company. Find out what’s covered, and ask for an adjuster to come out to assess your property. Ask your insurance rep for contractor recommendations.
When consulting your insurance company, it’s important that you take notes of everyone you talk to, including names, dates, and what was said. Also be sure not to clean up until all damage has been properly documented with notes, photos, and video footage.
3. Avoid making rash decisions
Natural disaster damage can be devastating, but try your best to avoid making emotional or rash decisions. Remind yourself to stay calm and think twice before making any on-the-spot decisions. If a contractor is pressuring you into a fast commitment, it could be a sign that he might not be trustworthy or professional.
4. Shop around for contractors
Before hiring a contractor for repairs, be sure to do your homework and shop around for several estimates. Visit www.bbb.org for ratings on tens of thousands of contractors and repair professionals.
You can also reach out to your local Division of Consumer Affairs to find out if a contractor has any complaints against them.
5. Get it in writing
“Get everything in writing, scrutinize the fine print, and ask questions,” urges the BBB. Your contract should specify the work being done, as well as the price and time frame that was agreed to. It should also include a breakdown of the labor and material costs.
The bottom line: Never accept a handshake deal, and make sure your contract is as detailed as possible. This will ensure that both consumer and contractor are on the same page through every step of the process.
6. Don’t pay with cash or before the work is completed
You should never pay in full in advance, and it’s never a good idea to pay cash, according to the BBB. If the contractor requests a deposit, a general rule of thumb is paying for no more than one-third of the job ahead of time.