Have you recently been through a major storm? Do you have hail damage to your car or home? If so, you may be a target for scam artists that some experts call "storm chasers." They prey on drivers and homeowners that have recently sustained potentially expensive damage and are looking for a fast and affordable way to repair their property. Take a look at two of the most common scams, and find out how to avoid being taken in by unscrupulous storm chasers.
Auto Body Repair Scam
You may come across an auto body repair service in a parking lot or on the side of the road—anywhere that the storm chasers can set up a tent or other temporary shop. They'll promise you that you can have the hail damage for your car repaired for less than what a normal auto body shop would charge, and that you'll be able to collect a check from your insurance company for the amount of a more typical repair, so you'll get to keep the extra money. The may use high-pressure tactics to convince you to allow them to do the work immediately, like telling you that the deal is a one-day only offer.
What's the problem with that? The work may never get done. You may be asked to leave your car with them for several days or weeks, along with a deposit for the work. Eventually, after they've collected deposits from enough people, they'll split, leaving the cars there. At best, you'll be out the deposit amount and find that no work was ever done, or that a shoddy or partial job was done to repair the damage. At worst, you may find your stereo, GPS, or other valuable items missing from the vehicle.
Roof Repair Scam
Roof repair scam artists won't wait for you to find them—they will actually come knocking on your door looking for work. After a major storm, it can take time for your insurance adjuster to get out to your home and check out the damage, and roof repair scammers target frustrated homeowners who are tired of waiting. They may tell you that your insurance company isn't sending anyone out at all. They may also offer to negotiate with the insurance company for you, so that you can be reimbursed for whatever money you pay them.
Some contractors may actually do the work, although the quality of the repair may not be what you had hoped for. Others will take a deposit and disappear, never to be seen again. The fact is, no one can negotiate with your insurance company for you; a contractor who knocks on your door has no idea what your policy does and does not cover, and can in no way guarantee that you'll be reimbursed for any work that they do. As frustrating as waiting can be, you have to go through your insurance company to find out what they'll pay toward your repairs.
How to Avoid Being Scammed
You don't have to be a victim of a con game after a storm. There are a number of things that you can do to avoid falling prey to unscrupulous repair providers.
- Get several bids before agreeing to let anyone do your repair work. If one offer is way out of line with the rest, it's probably a scam.
- Stick with local repair shops that you know, or ask your insurance company for a list of their approved auto body repair shops or roofing contractors.
- Contact the Better Business Bureau for information on any mobile repair business you're considering using.
- Ask to see permits, licenses, and proof of insurance for any contractor that you may possibly hire.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it almost always is. Therefore you shouldn't take the "deal."
A major storm can be a harrowing ordeal, and being left with damaged property can be frustrating, which makes you vulnerable to being taken advantage. To complicate matters more, there actually are legitimate mobile repair businesses that travel to storm damaged areas to help handle the overflow of repairs, and it can be tough to tell the difference between a legitimate contractor and a scam artist at a glance. Protect yourself by learning the signs of a con and how to distinguish between legitimate repair providers and storm chasers.