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After the storm, watch for the scam

Some home repair companies troll for targets.We talked to Mike DeWine and got his advice.

It’s inevitable that a damaging storm will be coming around again to this part of Ohio. Just as inevitable are “storm chasers,” a common nickname for unscrupulous home repair companies trying to make a quick buck for your misfortune.

“We’ve had this problem for a long time,” says Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “I was living in Cedarville during the Xenia tornado in 1974 and even back then you heard about dishonest people trying to make easy money from other people’s losses.”

After a damaging storm, especially a widespread one, home repair scam artists come to town, knocking on doors and offering to fix real or imagined damage to roofs, windows and other parts of the home. Some actually do a bit of work, usually poor quality or unnecessary, but many move on after taking deposit money.

Some scammers come months after the storm, offering to “check your roof” and then magically find sections that need repair. Storm chasers often pressure the home owner to sign a contract now, assuring their victim that their homeowner’s insurance will pay for it. But the homeowner is stuck with a signed contract no matter what.

“A lot of companies set up a local shop temporarily,” says Scott Flischel, a State Farm Insurance agent in Springboro. “Homeowners are smart to do business with an established company who has been here a long time.”

When storm damage occurs, homeowners are eager to get the repairs done and therein is the problem, says DeWine. “Everyone wants immediate work but there are not enough reliable contractors to do all the work,” he says. “Dishonest people see an opportunity and unfortunately, some homeowners abandon common sense in a time of stress.”

But work is often done poorly or not at all.

“In 2012, complaints against home improvement companies increased by 14 percent from the previous year,” reports John North, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Dayton and the Miami Valley. “Complaints against roofers went up by 49 percent in the same period.”

The Economic Crimes Unit was established by Attorney General DeWine to help prepare criminal consumer fraud cases for local prosecution. “Civil suits help people get their money back, but we also want these guys to face criminal prosecution,” DeWine says.

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