Editor's note: This story was originally published on March 17, 2012.
Most of us have heard the storm sirens that were tested this week and should have familiarized ourselves with plans to seek safety during storms. Unfortunately, there is no warning system for another kind of weather-related onslaught that can make our lives miserable: storm opportunists.
These are companies that go door to door in areas that have been hit by severe storms, hoping to contract with homeowners to repair damage. Sometimes they may be identified by their vehicles’ out-of-state license plates.
Immediately after a tornado, straight-line wind or roof-damaging hail storm, these traveling workers may quickly descend upon a neighborhood. They may blanket streets with business cards and handouts offering quick damage repair and claiming cut-rate pricing. Consumers should not make hasty decisions and will probably benefit from being deliberate and choosy. The anxious feelings of vulnerability, uncertainty and economic fears may put consumers in exactly the wrong frame of mind to make decisions.
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Here are some suggestions from the Better Business Bureau for storm victims who are targeted by door-to-door storm chasers seeking work:
Check to see if the contactor or individual is properly licensed, has liability and workers’ compensation insurance. The City of Wichita does not require a solicitation permit for door-to-door sales but other municipalities or townships might.
• Ask questions and be skeptical of any vague or hesitant answers. A reputable company will be eager to have you check them out.
• Be careful when allowing someone you do not know to inspect your roof. Some unethical contractors will create damage in order to get work.
Try to get at least three or four quotes from separate contractors.
Don’t pay in full up front before the work is done.
Get a written contract specifying the price, the work to be done, the amount of liability insurance coverage maintained by the contractor and a time frame.
Check to see if the contractor’s vehicle, usually a truck, has signs on it with the business name and if it has Kansas license plates. If the license plates are from out of state, find out how warranty issues or problems will be handled after the company is gone from your area.
Ask for references from homeowners where the contractor has done work within the past 6 months.
Resist high-pressure sales tactics, like an offer of a special “good deal” if you hire the contractor on the spot.
Check out the contractor to see if they are a BBB Accredited Business by going to http://kansasplains.bbb.org/.
While college students are vacationing during spring break, their grandparents are sometimes targeted for variations of the “grandparents scam.”
Scammers can pull information about students from their Facebook pages or other social networking sites. A college I.D. or driver’s license left in a bar can also provide a scammer with a window into that student’s private information.
Scammers then call a relative and ask for money to cover bail or other emergencies, claiming to be in trouble with authorities in Canada or Mexico. They ask for the money to be wired and ask for secrecy.
Avoid falling victim to fraud by staying in touch with the student or their parents. If such a call comes, seek verification before wiring money anywhere. It’s almost certainly a scam.