Look out for storm-chasing scammers

Published on Saturday, 3 May 2014 23:29 - Written by Mechele Agbayani Mills Tyler Better Business Bureau

The recent damage from the storm system that spawned tornadoes in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and surrounding areas is bringing out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help others in need.

Unfortunately, the aftermath of a crisis also brings out contractors who take advantage of those who have already been victimized. Although East Texas was not affected by this week’s storms, tornado season is far from over, and consumers need to be on the lookout for storm chasers.

Storm chasers are individuals who follow severe weather hoping to get business from victims whose homes have been damaged by storms. These fly-by-night repair businesses will solicit work, often door-to-door, in unmarked trucks, following weather reports and sometimes arriving in town before the storm even hits and are ready to pounce as soon as the weather breaks.

When looking for a contractor you can trust and when seeking to aid to relief efforts, BBB recommends that homeowners and donors do the following:

n Do your homework. BBB has Business Reviews on tens of thousands of contractors — good and bad — across the U.S. Make sure the company has a good track record and has a history of responding to complaints if they receive them.

n Recognize the red flags. Beware of any contractor who uses high pressure sales tactics or requires full payment upfront. Avoid contractors who require you to get the necessary permits. When making a donation, be cautious about online giving, especially in response to spam messages and emails that claim to link to a relief organization. In response to the previous natural disasters, there were concerns raised about many websites and new organizations were created overnight allegedly to help victims.

n Vet the contractor carefully. Verify the business meets all state and local requirements including being licensed, insured and bonded. Also ask the business for references from recent jobs. Confirm whether the contractor will be subcontracting the job or relying on their own employees.

Seek at least three bids. Beware of low-ball estimates that may potentially balloon over time or foreshadow shoddy work to come.

Make sure everything is in writing and that the full scope of the work is explained in the contract including cleanup and disposal of waste. All verbal agreements need to be included in the written agreement. Pay close attention to the payment terms, estimated price of materials and labor and any warranties or guarantees.

n Find trustworthy charities when aiding to relief. Donors need to make sure their donations will go to legitimate and reputable charities and relief efforts that have the capability to help those in need. Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other websites, as they might not have fully researched the listed relief organizations. Interested donors should visit bbb.org to research charities and relief organizations to verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, call the BBB Hotline at 903-581-8373.