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STORM DAMAGE? AVOID BEING VICTIMIZED TWICE
The Better Business Bureau has tips on how to avoid being scammed by "storm chasers."

Date published: 10/31/2012

BY CATHY JETT

As the skies clear after Hurricane Sandy, "storm chasers" are certain to come out in force.

They're the scam artists who will try to take advantage of vulnerable storm victims. Typically they'll offer to repair a damaged roof, remove a fallen tree or clean up a debris-filled yard for cash in advance.

The Better Business Bureau office in Richmond has not gotten any calls about storm scams so far, but it is urging people who have experienced storm damage to take certain precautions when cleaning up and making repair decisions.

They are:

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.

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 in selecting a business instead of reacting to sales solicitations. Make temporary repairs if necessary.

For major repairs, take time to get three or four estimates based on the same specifications and materials. Check out references that are at least a year old. If contractors are required to be licensed or registered to do work in your area, verify their information with the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, Board for Contractors Division at virginia.gov/License Lookup or by calling 804/367-8511.

All work inside homes built before 1978 must be done by contractors that are certified to conduct lead-based paint activities and renovations.

Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have leftover materials from a job "down the street" or who do not have a permanent place of business. Check to see if your community requires door-to-door salespeople to have solicitation permits.

Be leery if a worker shows up on your doorstep to announce that your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it.

Require a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor.

Be sure the contract includes the contractor's name, address, license number if applicable and phone number, along with start and end dates for the work. Read and understand the contract in its entirety and don't sign a blank contract. A copy of the signed contract should be given to you immediately.

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 for all repairs in advance, and do not pay cash. While many businesses may ask for a deposit, the BBB suggests that no more that one-third of the job be paid upfront. Be sure the contract specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor.

For lists of BBB-accredited businesses and business reviews, visit bbb.org or call 540/373-9872.

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407
Email: cjett@freelancestar.com