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Beware of Storm Chasers

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After a major storm or another natural disaster, many homeowners can be left feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and traumatized. Once the dust settles, and everyone is at least safe, thoughts turn to rebuilding. That’s when the storm chasers show up. But beware of these opportunistic builders. Some of them have really come to help out a hard hit area. But others come to separate you from your money and quickly get out of town. Knowing how to recognize storm chasing scam artists can save you from significant financial loss, or even the loss of your home.

Beware of Storm Chasers [infographic]

What Are Storm Chasers?

After a severe weather incident, all sorts of people show up to help out. Most of them are good people with good hearts. We often hear about utility workers coming in from all over the country to help get the power back on for thousands of households. There are also legitimate builders, roofers, and all sorts of disaster recovery specialists who come to help out where they are needed. Following a severe natural disaster, local builders may be overwhelmed, or even suffering their own losses. The arrival of demolition and rebuilding crews from all over can be a welcome blessing.

When we talk about storm chasers, we are usually talking about a particular subset of out of town workers. These are the opportunistic scam artists who kick people when they’re down. They feed on fear, trauma, and confusion to separate you from your money. Those are the ones you need to watch out for.

But how do you know if you are dealing with a legitimate disaster recovery specialist or a scam artist? We’re here to expose some of the top scams and help you tell the difference.

Take the Money and Run

One trick that scammers will use is a simple grab and run. These criminals know two critical things: homeowners are desperate for relief and insurance companies are opening their checkbooks. With those two realities, these scammers see a chance for a quick buck. This scam is about the simplest one out there.

The scammer will approach a distraught homeowner and offer them speedy service to get their house back in order. All they need is a down payment to get started. The homeowner or insurance company makes the payment, and that’s the last they ever see of that criminal. The money's gone, and the homeowner is just as bad off as when they started.

The best way to avoid this scam is to make sure that the contractor has some skin in the game before you hand over any money. It is true that even reliable, honest contractors need down payments, but they will rarely ask for your money with nothing in return. Tell your contractor that you will happily turn over the down payment upon the first delivery of materials to the job site. That will quickly scare off the scammers. It’s not worth it to the scammer to deliver a bunch of materials and then abandon them just to abscond with your down payment. Honest contractors, on the other hand, should be fine with that arrangement.

Let’s Make a Deal

This trick feeds off the emotions of a homeowner who has just been through a terrible loss. After a storm, fire, flood, or another catastrophic event, many homeowners are desperate to return to normalcy. Scammers know that and prey on that need. In this scam, the scammer shows up and offers to make a quick deal. What’s so insidious about this scam is that the scammer actually poses as a rescuing angel. The scammer approaches the homeowner and offers a quick fix. Whether it’s patching a roof, replacing ruined carpets and flooring, or clearing debris, they offer to do it now. However, they are not making an honest offer.

This is basically a price gouging scam. The scammers know people are desperate, so they pressure them to sign a contract right here and right now. They quote exorbitant prices and don’t want to offer you any time to think about it. The homeowner signs on the dotted line, only to find out later that their insurance won’t cover the full (overpriced) cost of repairs. The homeowner is on the hook for a large payment, which they have already signed for.

The one caveat here is that in the case of a widespread disaster there is a bit of supply-and-demand economics. If thousands of homes have been damaged, it may be reasonable to pay a premium to have a contractor prioritize your home. However, it’s at least worth asking your neighbors about what they are paying to get an idea of what is reasonable. If you are being pressured into signing too quickly, it may be time to walk away. 

Fabricated Damage

This one is a roofing scam, and it is typical of areas where severe winds or hail have done a lot of damage mostly to people’s roofs. In these situations, it is quite common for some roofs to suffer more than others. Countless factors can affect how much damage one roof or another sustains. The type, age, and condition of a roof make a huge difference. The location of the roof, the trees and buildings around it, and the way the wind blows are also significant. It is not uncommon for some roofs to be severely damaged while others are barely harmed.

In this situation, many homeowners who don’t see much damage may still be worried about damage they can’t see. So when a roofer shows up and offers to do an inspection, it seems like a welcomed bit of help. But beware of unsolicited help. We’ve seen so-called roofers pull up shingles to simulate wind damage or use a hammer to create dents in the roof that they blame on hail.

Once this scammer has been up on your roof and found—or created—some damage, they will offer to fix it. Often, this will lead into another scam. They may shift into the high-pressure sales scam to separate you from as much money as possible as quickly as possible. Or they may do worse and take the money and run. To avoid this kind of scam, take the same precautions with your roof that you would with the rest of your home. You wouldn’t let a stranger into your home unaccompanied, so don’t let a stranger onto your roof. Before anyone climbs onto your roof, do some background research. Ask for references. Or just wait to call an established roofing company.

Finding Reliable Help

With all the criminals making the rounds, it can feel like a huge job finding reliable help. After all, when you’ve just suffered severe damage to your home, the last thing you want to do is start investigating a whole bunch of roofers, builders, and other repair services. Of course, that’s why TrustDALE.com exists.

If you’ve suffered damage to your roof from a storm, you can choose from several roofers who have all undergone Dale’s seven-point investigative review process. That saves you precious time investigating them yourself. And if you’re still feeling a little unsure, you can rely on Dale’s trademark Make-it-Right Guarantee™. Each and every one of the businesses in the TrustDALE family of excellence has agreed to the guarantee. If you’re not satisfied with the service you receive and you feel like the company isn’t making it right, they have signed a contract that gives Dale the final word in making it right for you.

We also have other professional disaster restoration specialists here. A disaster can be overwhelming, so let Dale give you one less thing to do.