Whenever an area experiences a significant weather event, like a freak summer hailstorm or a record-breaking month of snow, unscrupulous con artists called “storm chasers” can be found. These people prey on uninformed or unprepared homeowners, with scams ranging from insurance fraud to collecting money but not performing the work promised. Here are some scenarios to watch out for:
The Snow Shovel No-Show
This type of scam plays out in many communities during the winter months. Someone advertises a snow clearing service, asks for cash up front, but then never shows when the snow finally hits the ground. The end result is your money in their pocket, and a driveway, sidewalk, and street still full of snow.
Most storm chasers don’t work locally. In order to give the appearance of legitimacy, they’ll sometimes adopt the business name of a local contractor–sometimes leasing the name from the local business, and other times simply using it without permission. They may come to your house, give you an estimate, and get you to pay some or all of it up-front, in cash. Then, they move on from the area, never to be seen again.
Stealing Your Insurance Check
This storm chaser scenario is the most involved of the three. The con artists will show up to your door, give you their pitch, and ask you to sign something that gives them the power to negotiate with your insurance agency on your behalf. But by signing that document, you may surrender your ability to make any decisions about the repairs being made, including what materials are used. The contractor can cut as many corners as possible, since they know they are entitled to the entire insurance check.
“Ah, but the work was warrantied,” you might be thinking. Once they move on, they’re probably not going to return to fix a problem with their work, or you may not even be able to locate them. Second, if they leased the name of a local business, they’ve left that business on the hook for their warranties. Any claims are the local business’ responsibility to fix, at their expense, on their own time.
The Good News?
There are many trustworthy professional contractors in your community, so it’s best to “buy local”. Talking to neighbors to get referrals is a great way to find reputable contractors who will guarantee their work and use quality products. You can also find an experienced contractor near you by using our referral tool, the HBP ProZone®. When you use a local contractor, they are likely to provide high-quality work because they rely on customers like you to speak highly of them and recommend them to others!