Officials warn of roofing scams in Wichita area

Hail from the west side of Wichita on Wednesday. (Sept. 15, 2010)
Hail from the west side of Wichita on Wednesday. (Sept. 15, 2010)

State and local authorities on Friday urged residents in the Wichita area whose homes were hammered by massive hail during Wednesday night's storm to be wary of scam artists.

Hail the size of grapefruit, softballs and baseballs struck sections of west and south Wichita, as well as suburbs along and south of Kellogg.

National Weather Service officials say one stone that fell in southwest Wichita appears to be the largest on record in Kansas.

"I've worked here 30 years, and I've never seen hail this big," said Wanda Clark, a secretary at Valentine Roofing.

Roofers have reported brisk business the last two days as homeowners line up for repairs or replacement roofs.

Con artists are likely lining up to fleece the unsuspecting, too, authorities say.

Sharon Werner, chief attorney of the consumer fraud division of the Sedgwick County District Attorney's Office, said calls are already coming in from people reporting solicitors going door-to-door.

"The most important thing for a person to do is to do their homework up front and not after they have a problem," Werner said. "A little up-front homework will more than likely save them many hours of grief and possibly loss of money later on."

That homework should include asking for referrals, local contact information and the number of the operating license from the city, she said.

"We are seeing a lot of door-to-door and phone call solicitations," Roberta Namee, operations and arbitration manager for the Better Business Bureau of Kansas, said in a statement. "We want consumers to be aware that any business offering to do repairs to your home or dwelling must be licensed and insured with the city."

Before hiring anyone, Namee said, residents should contact the Better Business Bureau at 316-263-8567.

Homeowners can go to the clerk of the district court to see whether there have been lawsuits filed against a company proposing to do work, Werner said.

If the representative is suggesting signing a contract, check for the name of the company, its address and local license number.

"If that's not on there, it's a big red flag," Werner said.

Another red flag is a company that wants money up front to do the job, she said.

"A lot of very small companies bristle when I say this, but most reputable companies have enough money to secure the supplies up front," Werner said. "Anybody who asks you to pay the full freight before they even land on their property, I would steer way from."

It is not unusual for companies to ask for a down payment of 20 to 30 percent and perhaps progression payments as the work approaches completion, Werner said.

However, "It's real important that people not make the final payment until the roof is inspected" and approved, she said.

That can be something of a hurdle when an intense storm has affected a substantial number of homes because inspectors can be just as busy and backed up as roofers, she said.

Residents should also beware of roofers who ask the homeowner to pull the permit needed to do the work.

"If there are things wrong with the job, and you've pulled the permit, then you are responsible for the repair rather than the company," Werner said. "That is generally another red flag. The reason they don't want to pull the permit is because they are not licensed."

Jill Ward, business manager for Midwest Roofing Services, said one way homeowners can protect themselves is to work with a local roofer who has been in business for many years.

"You hear these terrible stories" about being scammed, Ward said.

But she understands how they can happen, she said. Often, the homeowner has never had to deal with anything like hail damage before.

"It's very overwhelming, all the paperwork that you have to go through," she said, so many people look for shortcuts to simplify things.

But that can lead to costly mistakes, shoddy repairs and long-term headaches, Ward and others said.