BBB Warns That Scammers May Be Chasing Your Wallet in Light of Recent Storms

First Byline: 
Kevin Collins, BBB of Central Ga. and CSRA

Your home and wallet may take a serious beating when a big storm hits and with the recent snow, ice, earthquake and wind that our area has seen over the last few weeks, the Better Business Bureau is warning consumers to be wary of fly-by-night "storm chasers," as well as fraudulent charities promising to provide relief.

Property owners will want to make repairs to their home or business as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, unscrupulous contractors or scam artists may take advantage of the post-disaster chaos to scam unsuspecting property owners out of money, or provide shoddy materials or sub-standard work.

The BBB offers these tips for selecting a contractor to repair any damages:
Recognize the red flags. Beware of any contractor who uses high pressure sales tactics or requires full payment upfront. Also avoid contractors who require you to get the necessary permits. The person pulling the permit is the person responsible for ensuring that the work will pass code inspections. That person should be the contractor, not you. Be sure to check with your insurance company on policy coverage and filing requirements.
Vet the contractor carefully. Verify the business meets all state and local requirements including being licensed and insured. Also ask the business for references from recent jobs and check out those references. Confirm whether or not the contractor will be subcontracting the job or relying on their own employees. If subcontractors are used, ask for verification that all subs have been paid on your job prior to final payment. Remember, you will be working closely with this contractor, make sure you feel comfortable with your decision.
Beware of storm chasers. In the wake of a storm, fly-by-night repair businesses will solicit work, often door-to-door, in unmarked trucks. They might require advance payment and make big promises on which they won't be able to deliver. Many municipalities require a solicitation permit if sales people go do-to-door. Verify that they have to have a permit by contacting your local city or county government. Ask to see the driver's license of the sales person to verify if they are local or out-of-state. If you suspect they are not reputable, contact your local police or sheriff's office. The BBB suggests consumers be pro-active in selecting a contractor and not re-active to sales calls on the phone or door-to-door pitches.

Seek at least three bids. Beware of low-ball estimates that may potentially balloon over time or foreshadow shoddy work to come. Remember, the lowest price may not always be the best price. Don't act in haste. Don't be pressured into signing a long-term contract. Make temporary repairs if necessary.
Make sure everything is in writing. Make sure that the full scope of the work is explained in the contract including cleanup, disposal of waste and payment arrangements. All verbal agreements need to be included in the written agreement. Pay close attention to the payment terms, estimated price of materials, labor and any warranties or guarantees. Be wary if a contractor asks you to sign an estimate. Many unscrupulous contractors have you sign what you think is an estimate but in reality is a binding contract.
Doing a little research in the beginning and finding a contractor who will be around should a problem occur can help reduce headaches and save you money in the long term. For more advice on hiring trustworthy home professionals, visit www.bbb.org.