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.
Have storm damage? Think twice — three times! — before doing business with a company that:
• Phones you or comes knocking. After a storm, all the reputable companies are busy. Why isn’t this guy?
• Drives an unmarked vehicle.
• Has out of state license plates.
• Promises to negotiate with your insurance company.
• Pressures you to sign papers today.
• Asks you to pay a large part (or all) of the job up front.
• Says he’ll drive you to the bank to get the money.
Don’t assume all these people look sleazy. Successful ones can act professional.
Tips for protection against storm chasers
In the “calm before the storm,” learn how to avoid getting ripped off.
• Talk to your insurance company. “Call your insurance company first to find out about your coverage and what steps you should take to get the repairs you need,” recommends Flischel.
• Look for established, licensed or bonded companies.
• Contact the Better Business Bureau for a list of BBB Accredited contractors and business reviews on businesses you’re considering. Visit www.bbb.org or call (937) 222-5825 or (800) 776-5301. “Our Business Review tells the complaints we received about a company and if the complaint was resolved,” says North. (Remember, a person coming to town with a new name won’t have complaints yet.)
• Check contractors’ reputations with the Ohio Attorney General’s office.
• “Once you narrow your selection to several contractors, get written estimates,” offers DeWine. Ask for an itemized list of all materials and costs and a start and ending date.
• Ask for references and contact them.
• “Ask to see certificates of insurance to be sure both liability and workers compensation insurance coverage is in force during the time the work is being done,” says Flischel.
Know your rights
In Ohio, for door-to-door sales of $25 or more, sellers:
• Must give consumers three days to cancel
• Must provide a written agreement and written cancellation notice
• May not begin services until after the three-day cancellation period ends
If the consumer cancels, the seller must provide a refund within 10 days.
Your newspaper will arm you with information to protect your money from scammers.