As hurricane Sandy blows herself out, cities and states along the East coast begin to assess the damage done to many areas that are not accustomed to hurricanes. New York and New Jersey were hit especially hard, and whenever there is a disaster like this, scam artists come crawling out of the woodwork from all over the country. They flock towards disaster because it usually means easy money. These states will be especially vulnerable because disasters of this magnitude rarely if ever impact this area. Before you throw your money away on a fly-by-night contractor, consider these tips in order to prevent another disaster on top of the hurricane damage.
Tips to Prevent Post-Disaster Scams:
- Slow Down and Take a Deep Breath! Many homeowners rush into repairs and find themselves in the middle of a scam simply because they tried to rush through the process. We know you want to get back to normal, but haste is something scam artists are counting on in order to make a quick buck.
- FEMA: This governmental agency is responsible for lending federal funds for aid during these types of emergencies. Your local government will be in contact with FEMA to determine whether or not the area is being declared a “disaster area.” Disaster areas will be assessed for damages and you can schedule your own property assessment with FEMA as well. Remember that FEMA is a non-profit governmental body and they do not charge a fee for assessments and should carry proper identification when coming to your home.
- Ignore Cold Callers: Door to door scam artists patrol disaster affected towns looking for vulnerable homes. Never hire a company that tries to get the job by going door to door. Call your own repair companies and have at least 3 written estimates performed.
- Contact Insurance: Find out whether or not your insurance company will cover the cost of some of these repairs. They may want to send out their own representative to assess the damage. Have this assessment performed before hiring any repair services, and do not directly write over your insurance check to anyone!
- BBB and Chamber of Commerce: Check out the companies that perform estimates in your home. The local BBB and Chamber of Commerce will let you know what kind of history that company has in your state. Do not hire companies from out of state because they can easily take your money and flee.
- Make a Paper Trail: Get everything and we mean EVERYTHING in writing! Contracts and payments should be written in clear language detailing every service that is to be performed and how much it will all cost in the end. Make all payments by check or credit card and never pay in cash! You need to have proof that a service was paid for in case there is ever a dispute.
Play it Safe and Be Smart!
These tips only begin to scratch the surface of what you can do to protect yourself from a scam after a disaster. Play it safe and be smart. It doesn’t hurt to be extra cautious in these tough times even if it does take a little bit longer to return your home to normalcy.