Storm damage could lead to fraud
While this past season has been a fairly mild one (both winter and spring) in terms of storms, with early summer approaching, things can change fast when the monsoon season arrives here in the desert of eastern Utah.
With nearly 5,300 reports of severe weather involving tornadoes, wind or hail already this year across the county storm-chaser scam artists are eager to approach unsuspecting victims.
Being alert and aware of the potential for fraud can protect you from becoming a storm victim twice.
After a hailstorm, windstorm, flood or other disaster, storm scammers sometimes canvas affected neighborhoods looking to take advantage of distressed homeowners.
"Our customers are encountering scammers insisting they were 'sent by the insurance company'," says Dan Behrens, Claims Director at Farm Bureau Financial Services. "It is never our practice to send a contractor or other worker to a customer's home without contacting them directly first. We encourage our customers to immediately call their agent following a storm and to call again if someone arrives unexpectedly. Other common scams we see include subpar work and materials, price gouging and even taking advance payment for work that is never completed."
Farm Bureau Financial Services recommends the tips below to help you make sure you're dealing with a qualified, reputable contractor.
Protect your property
While you may need to make repairs quickly to protect your property, don't settle for the first bid, particularly if a contractor contacts you. Make temporary repairs, if needed, to protect your home from further damage and keep your receipts. Then, to ensure you're not the victim of price gouging, get at least two estimates, in writing, and compare them carefully. Make sure to ask upfront if there's a charge for estimates.
Report your claim
Contact your insurance agent or claims center as soon as possible. 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. If you're not yet working with a contractor, your adjuster may also be able to make a recommendation.
Check contractors out
Never hire a contractor on the spot. Take the time to check the track record of potential contractors through your local Better Business Bureau, Home Builders Association, or insurance claims adjuster. You may also want to check surrounding states since mobile work crews often move into an area after a large-scale disaster. Separate the legitimate contractors from the phonies by asking to see their licenses, local operating permits, and certificates of insurance for property, liability, and workers compensation coverages. Also, ask for references and check with other customers to be sure they were satisfied.
Get it in writing
Get everything in writing, not just the cost. This should include 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.
Don't pay until the work is done
While a small deposit is reasonable, reputable contractors will not ask for full payment before the work is complete. Be sure you know whether you are expected to pay the contractor(s) directly or whether your insurance company will do so.
Review your coverage
Ideally, you should do a complete review of your insurance before storm season ? at least once a year or when you've experienced significant life changes. While home insurance and the comprehensive coverage of your car insurance policy generally provide coverage for storm damage, make sure you understand the losses your specific policy covers. Also ensure your deductible is still manageable for your current financial situation. Your agent will be able to address these questions with you.
"Our top concern is ensuring customers aren't doubly victimized when the unthinkable happens," says Behrens. "We want storm victims to use these tips to feel confident their repairs are being made professionally."