Beware of post-storm scams

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If your home is damaged during a storm, you might be faced with another potential disaster: contractors who promise quick repairs for cash upfront.

"After a storm goes through an area it's not unusual for us unfortunately to hear stories of consumers being taken advantage of – companies coming door to door asking for money up front, promising to do jobs that they don't do," said Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List.  "We want to remind consumers to be the best consumer they can even in scenarios like this."

More often than not, these contractors appear after a major storm and pocket the money, perform shoddy, little or no work and disappear.

Hicks added, "After a storm, the first thing you want to do is be sure your family is safe. Next, take pictures. I know this may not seem like the obvious thing to do, but the more you can document the damage, the better. Then, get in touch with your insurance company."

Angie's List tips to avoid shady contractors:

  • Just say no: If a stranger comes to your storm-ravaged yard offering to fix your roof, remove trees or do other major repair work for cash up front, just say no. Chances are, he or she will take your money and disappear, leaving you with little or no recourse.
  • Do your research: Check Angie's List to see what local customer's experiences have been with the company. You can also find the status of the contractor's bonding and liability insurance coverage. While you might get lucky working with an independent provider who lists his truck as a permanent address, remember that you have few options if the job goes awry or the provider disappears. 
  • Quality is worth the wait: When massive storms hit, tree service professionals, plumbers, roofers and hauling companies are in high demand, and the best performers are generally the busiest. Beware the company with time on its hands when every other company can't even answer the phone.
  • Get estimates: Though your situation might seem to be one of desperation, avoid settling on the first contractor who comes along and offers to do the job. Take enough time to get at least three written estimates on the job.
  • Document important information: Get all estimates in writing, including the price, materials to be used and the timeline for completing the job. This is often the best ammunition you have if things go wrong. Never sign a blank contract.
  • Understand your insurance: Learn what your insurance policy covers before a storm hits. Never sign over your homeowner's insurance settlement upfront and avoid a company that offers to pay or help with your deductible. In some states, deductible help is considered insurance fraud.
  • Know your contract rights: Remember that in many areas you have a legal right to cancel a contract within three business days if you signed it based on the contractor's visit to your home. After natural disasters, state or local officials may extend that time frame. Don't sign a contract with blank spaces. Always obtain an original copy with both party's signatures.
  • Make sure you're there: Don't let anyone inspect your property without you present. They might fake damage with hammers or golf balls and drive up repair costs.
  • Prepare for next time: Don't put off necessary home and lawn repairs to the point where a storm can make the situation worse. Research your contractor and establish a relationship before you need them.

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