Summer in Ohio, it seems, has all kinds of weather that can wreak havoc and destruction. Sometimes we have advanced warning of what’s coming; sometimes we don’t. Mother Nature’s violent side often leads to property damage and injury.
Almost always, communities, neighborhoods and families work together to help each other. The first impulse is to check to make sure everyone is safe and then to start rebuilding. Sadly, it is also when victims are the most vulnerable, making it prime time for scam contractors to try to take advantage of that vulnerability.
Here are some tips about emergency preparedness and protecting yourself against “storm-chasing” scammers.
First, be prepared:
• The first three days after an emergency are the most critical. Experts say you should create a 72-hour emergency kit that includes three days of water and food for each person in your family, candles, flashlights and batteries. Having a first aid kit handy is also suggested.
• It is always a good idea to review your insurance policy with your agent at least once a year. After all, your home is usually the most viable asset. But a typical insurance policy will cover fire loss as well as damage caused by lightning, hailstorms, windstorms, and tornadoes. However, most homeowner’s policies do not cover flooding. Discuss possibly adding additional coverage with your agent.
With the recent severe weather in our part of the state, it is vital that you be aware of the difference between reputable contractors and con artists and how to protect yourself.
Here are some telltale signs to identify potential “storm-chasing” scam contractors:
• Fraudulent contractors know that victims want to get things back to normal as quickly as possible, so they will drive up and down roads and streets of affected areas, stopping at victim’s doors, offering immediate work. They usually drive pickup trucks having no identification or phone numbers.
• The scam contractor will want you to pay a large deposit to start the work, often disappearing with your money. You can protect yourself by insisting on paying just a small amount to start with and the balance upon satisfactory completion. Be sure to get all of this in writing!
• When inspecting your house, fraudulent contractors will often create larger damage amounts so they can charge you a bigger fee. The best way to protect yourself is by contacting your insurance agent before authorizing any work. Their claims personnel are very good at spotting actual damage.
• As much as you want to get things done, don’t be in a rush. Consider getting multiple estimates before making a final decision.
• Before agreeing to any work, be sure to check the contractor’s history by calling the BBB or state attorney general’s office to see if there are complaints regarding their work. Also check with trusted family, neighbors and friends for companies they would recommend.
• If the contractor secured your business from a door-to-door sale, you generally have three business days to cancel the contract under Ohio’s Home Solicitations Act. The contractor must provide the consumer with written notice of their cancellation rights under the law. If the contractor does not do that, avoid doing business with them.
Most contractors are often part of your community and work hard to maintain a good reputation and do quality work. It is safest not to hire strangers going door to door. When possible, hire local, hire licensed and hire only those with good references.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.