TOPEKA, Kansas (WIBW) – The Better Business Bureau says the tornadoes tore through Kansas Friday night, April 29, and were a painful reminder that severe weather is a constant threat.
Unfortunately, the BBB said traveling repair businesses can pose another threat in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters. While some companies are reputable, he said others are opportunists who rush in after the passage of time to take advantage of unsuspecting victims in a vulnerable moment.
The BBB noted that some of the companies will even try to pay local contractors or reputable construction companies for the temporary use of their name to create the illusion of credibility.
“During these difficult times, it can be difficult to know who to contact in the event of damage after a storm,” said Jim Hegarty, regional president and CEO of BBB. “Natural disasters can certainly bring out the best in people, especially in our communities where help comes quickly from neighbors. But unfortunately, there are also lawyers who seek to take advantage of vulnerable victims. »
The Bureau said the storms offer a tragic reminder that there is no better time than the present to catalog property. He said the benefit this creates if the need to tell insurance companies what items were lost to storm damage is huge. He gave the following advice:
- Use online tools provided by insurance companies. Their resources can facilitate the process. Ask an insurance company what they offer.
- Walk through the houses one room at a time and take smartphone videos and photos of your belongings.
- Look for useful data – serial numbers for appliances and other large items – and, if possible, records of what you paid for the items. Remember to store the information in a safe place that is unlikely to be ravaged by a storm.
- Use the cloud or a securely stored USB drive to save important documents – last 7 years of IRS tax returns, vehicle records, investment statements, loan and mortgage records, legal items such as wills and trusts , insurance documents, pension plan documents, records of births, deaths, marriages, divorces, military service and social security cards.
After the storm passed, the BBB gave the following advice:
- Gather evidence of damage and use smartphones to take pictures of what was damaged and broken.
- Use tarps and plywood to make temporary repairs, as storm damage may not be covered.
- Talk to insurance companies before talking to contractors or repairers. If possible, make it a conversation rather than an email. Find out what the policies cover and how much time is left to file a claim.
- Save storm-related receipts such as living expenses if shelter elsewhere is needed.
- Ask insurance companies for recommended contractors.
- Check prospective contractors with the BBB where company profiles can be read and market histories can be viewed >> HERE.
When repair companies arrive, the BBB gave the following advice:
- Slow down and don’t make quick decisions. Just take a card and ignore the high pressure sales tactics.
- Ask questions – Are they related? Authorized? Insured? Do they have a work card? Where is their office? What is their phone number? Can they give you references?
- Look at their vehicles – Do they have local tags? Is the company name displayed?
- Get written quotes with detailed proposals clearly written and broken down into separate line items – this is a good sign that a contractor is thorough and has prepared an accurate estimate. They should include the types of materials used, manufacturer and color, scope of work being done including material and labor costs, who is responsible for repairing or replacing the outdoor landscape or interior finishes damaged by the work, payment procedures, length of warranty and what is covered. Beware of low estimates.
- Read everything in the contract carefully.
- Never sign a contract until the company has been verified to BBB.org.
- Be careful before signing documents that give a contractor rights to insurance claims. Discuss the details of such a request with the insurance company or agent.
The BBB said it’s also wise to be on the lookout for scammers looking to take advantage of a homeowner’s need to repair damage quickly. He gave the following red flags to be wary of:
- Door-to-door workers claiming to have leftover materials – if vendors are door-to-door, check to see if the community requires them to have a solicitation permit and ask for ID. Avoid porch sales pitch deals – instead, take the time to research the company before contacting them for more details and deals.
- A contractor who shows up unannounced and claims a home is unsafe – if concerned about structural damage to a home, residents should have the home inspected by an engineer, architect or agent of the building. Although most roofing contractors obey the law, be careful about allowing strangers to inspect a roof. An unethical contractor could create damage to get work.
- Never pay for repairs in full up front – avoid paying in cash and instead use a credit card if possible, as this may provide additional protection in the event of a problem. While many companies might ask for a deposit, the BBB suggests that no more than a third of the work should be paid up front. Make sure the contract specifies the payment schedule for the contractor. Final payment should only be made after the work has been completed and all sub-contractors have been paid.
- Companies without a local address – when looking for a reputable company that can help clean up, start with a visit to BBB.org and if a company does not have a permanent place of business, this could be a concern. Always ask for references and verify them independently.
While the storm damage hasn’t affected the community, the BBB said residents can still prepare for future disasters. He offered the following tips for businesses and homeowners to reduce the impact of natural disasters:
- Take photos or videos of businesses or homes as a reference point in an emergency.
- Back up critical digital files to a portable external hard drive and store it away from the office.
- Properly secure fuel and propane tanks so they do not float in the event of flooding. Also, make sure fuel levels are topped up before storms hit.
- Have copies of insurance policies handy and have an electronic version available.
- Gather family photos and other moments in a centralized and easily accessible space, preferably in a waterproof container.
- keep medications together in an airtight container.
- prepare an emergency kit with a change of clothes, shoes suitable for the weather, a flashlight, water and a battery-operated or wind-up radio to monitor the weather without electricity.
- Discuss emergency plans with the family. Designate a safe place indoors if the need for shelter arises and a meeting place outdoors in case of evacuation.
For more information on the BBB, click on HERE.
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