With hurricaneSandy making its way up the east coast, homeowners fear the worst. High winds areexpected all across Upstate New York and some may be dealing with downed trees,flooding, power outages, property damage and in some cases severe damage. Naturaldisasters are a calling card for scammers posing as professionals offering helpin the storm aftermath. The Better Business Bureau warns homeowners to be on thelook out for imposters and to use extreme caution if you need to hire homerepair contractors.
“If you arehit by storm damage, you don’t need to be hit by a scam artist too,” said WarrenClark, Better Business Bureau President. “General contracting is one of our highestcomplaint areas at the BBB. Too often consumers find out after the fact thatthey hired a fly-by-night operation, an F rated business, or are left high anddry after making a cash deposit.”
Storms like hurricane Sandy attract traveling workersoffering their services and commonly known as ‘storm chasers.’ The BBB isurging consumers to use caution when hiring repair and clean up companies, sincenot all of them will be reputable. "Storm chasers" typically drivetrucks with out-of-state license plates. They may canvass neighborhoodsafter the winds die down with flyers advertising their services, offering towork with your insurance company, or going from door to door offering theirhelp.
Hurricane Sandy could make contractors in high demand andemotions can get in the way of clear decision making. The BBB reminds consumersto be wary of low prices and fast repairs since some businesses may not be ableto stand behind their work. It’s important to consider if you hire someone fromout of state, who will service the warranty if problems arise later?
“Consumers need to ask questions even in dire situations andhang onto their cash until they have all the answers and confidence the jobswill be done right,” added Clark. “It pays to do your homework and find one of the many reputablelocal contractors that can make repairs and still be around for service afterthe job is complete.”
The BBB offers the following tips to homeowners who suffer propertydamage:
- Check with your insurance company. Ask about your 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.
- Stay calm. 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. Make temporary repairs if necessary.
- Shop for Trust. Ask your family and friends for references. Contact the BBB for a report on the business and for major repairs; get three competitive bids and references for companies that have been in business for at least one year.
- Stay clear of door-to-door offers. Workers that come knocking with claims of left-over repair materials from a job “down the street” or who do not have a permanent place of business should raise a red flag. If workers show up claiming that your home is unsafe, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it if you’re concerned about structural damage.
- Verify Insurance. Make sure the company has liability and worker's comp insurance. If a contractor cannot provide proof of it, beware.
- Put it in writing. Written contract agreements are always best. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor.
- Do not use cash. Never pay for repairs in advance, and do not pay with cash or check. Credit cards offer you the best protection should something go wrong. Once your cash is gone, it’s gone.
- Be highly suspicious of Cash Requests. If a contractor asks you to pay for the entire job upfront, find another contractor. BBB experience bears out that many pay-first jobs are never completed. It might be okay to pay a deposit for certain jobs but only after you have checked them out and checked with a trusted friend, relative or your insurance agent to see if payment of a deposit is customary for your particular job.
- Request a Quote. You can get your job started with the BBB’s Request-a-Quote program. It’s a free program offered to consumers looking for options. Available on-line at bbb.org, consumers complete a simple 1,2,3 step process, and receive bids from qualified BBB Accredited Businesses within a few days.
Storm victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or tochoose an unknown contractor. When in doubt, contact the Better Business Bureauat bbb.org or call800.828.5000.
Reporters: BBB now includescomplaint response text in BBB Business Reviews for all reportable complaints thatare received electronically. To view consumer text, click on the BBB businessreport links and the ‘Read Complaint Detail’ tab.
Formore information or to schedule an interview with a BBB spokesperson, contactPeggy Penders at 800.303.4490.
For100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping consumers find businesses,brands and charities they can trust. BBB has Business Reviews on more than 4million companies and Charity Reviews on 11,000 charities, all available forfree. More than 100 million consumers rely on BBB Business Reviews® and BBBWise Giving Reports® annually to help them find trustworthy businesses andcharities across North America. Visit bbb.org formore information.