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BBB Warns East Texans of ‘Storm-Chaser’ Scams

The Better Business Bureau is receiving a flood of phone calls from residents asking about the legitimacy of out-of-town contractors offering to repair damage from the recent storms.

The BBB advises consumers to check with them and do the proper research first before contracting with an out- of-town company.

Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB of Central East Texas says, “Consumers are often so desperate to get repairs completed that they fail to do the proper research on the company they hire to do the work”, “Failing to do so, however, could cause both your home and wallet to take a serious beating.”

BBB offers the following advice to homeowners before hiring a contractor:

•             Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts if temporary repairs are necessary.

•             Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Don’t be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Be proactive in selecting a business and not re-active to sales solicitations.

•             For major repairs, take time to shop around and get 3 -4 estimates based on the same specifications and materials. Check out references that are at least one year-old and verify licensing with local agencies.

•             Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have left-over materials from a job “down the street” or who do not have a permanent place of business. If sales people go door-to-door, check to see if your community requires them to have solicitation permits.

•             Be leery if a worker shows up on your doorstep to announce that your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage in your home, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it. While most contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing someone you do not know inspect your home. An unethical contractor may actually create damage to get the work.

•             Require a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. Be sure their name address, license number, if applicable, and phone number is included in the contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety, and don’t sign a blank contract. A copy of the signed contract is to be given to you at the time of signature.

•             Clearly written proposals that are detailed and broken down into separate line items are a good sign that the contractor is being thorough and has prepared an accurate estimate.

•             If one estimate seems much lower than the others and it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Many fly-by-night contractors’ below-cost bids seem attractive, but these contracts often are uninsured and perform substantial cancellation fees or liquidation damages are required if the homeowner decides not to use the contractor after insurance approval of the claim.

•             Never pay for work in full in advance. The Better Business Bureau recommends a consumer never pay more than half before the contractor starts repairs and don’t pay the remaining balance until you are satisfied with the work. A good guideline is to pay by the rule of thirds: pay one-third deposit, one-third when the job is 50% complete, and one-third once the job is completed.

•             Hire locally whenever possible. Chances are, if the company is not from the area, they are less likely to come back and make a repair should you find something they missed.

Victims of severe storm damage should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. Start with companies you can trust by going to www.bbb.org. To report a fraud or scam, call the BBB Hotline: (903)581-8373.

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