Consumers warned of scams as disaster recovery begins

Photo courtesy MyBaxley.com
Photo courtesy MyBaxley.com

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As those who were affected by Sunday's storms begin to evaluate the damage, they are being encouraged to take the time to research and have their work done by a licensed professional.

The Better Business Bureau said unlicensed contractors will often travel from out of state to a disaster area in an attempt to take advantage of victims.

The Better Business Bureau offered several suggestions to consumers needing to repair or rebuild their homes from storm damage:

  • Contact your insurance adjuster immediately. Not only does this get the ball rolling on the claims process, but you might be eligible for loss-of-use benefits which means you could be reimbursed for hotel costs, food and other living expenses while your house is unlivable. Be sure to document all conversations with your insurance company or their adjuster and get any promises for reimbursements in writing. Be sure to keep all receipts.
  • Start seeking out current replacement costs for items you'll be including in your claim rather than depending solely on historical costs.
  • Document the damage to your property and possessions thoroughly. Take pictures or video, if possible. Go from room to room or document all debris piles and create a detailed account of your belongings and losses.
  • Make any minor repairs that you can do safely to minimize further damage to your home. You could be found liable for damage that occurs after a storm has passed, so make temporary repairs such as boarding up broken windows, removing wet drywall and carpet to prevent mold and putting up a tarp over a leaky roof. Beware of fly-by-night contractors who may try to offer these services for exorbitant fees. Be sure to get quotes in writing in advance or seek out volunteer groups in your area that may be offering assistance for free.
  • If your home is unlivable, contact your utility company to turn off your water and gas or electric services.
  • Do not make any permanent repairs until you get approval from your insurance company. Make sure you understand how your homeowners insurance company will reimburse your repair costs. Before spending money, call your insurance company to make sure all necessary procedures are followed according to your policy.
  • Beware of contractors who claim to be insurance claim specialists and may ask you to sign an agreement to allow them to contact your insurance company and seek approval of repairs for you. Many unscrupulous businesses have tricked consumers into signing a work estimate without reading the fine print, which commits you to automatically contract with their business if your insurance claim is approved. Click here for more information from Florida Department of Financial Services.
  • Check to make sure any contractors you are considering hiring are properly licensed and have up-to-date workers compensation and liability insurance. In addition, check them out with your Better Business Bureau and make sure they are approved by your insurance company before entering an agreement. Ask to see proof of their licensing a current certificate of insurance.

The Better Business Bureau also cautions you to be aware that if you hire an uninsured or unlicensed contractor who becomes injured, youcould be liable for paying the workers' compensation benefits.

The bureau said, "Do not hand over an insurance check to a contractor for repairs prior to work being started. A good rule of thumb is to never give more than one-third of the job price up front, and make sure that your insurance company has approved all repairs before your final payment is given to the business."

Consumers can look for a Better Business Bureau accredited business seal or check lists of Better Business Bureau accredited businesses at bbb.org.

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