BBB warns of “storm chasers” following severe winter weather

Scammers called “storm chasers” look to take advantage of residents looking to repair damage after severe weather, here’s how to spot and avoid them,
Published: Feb. 22, 2021 at 5:19 PM CST
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - “The first step is to contact your insurance company,” said Heather Massey. She’s our Senior Regional Director at the Better Business Bureau.

She joined First News at Four to break down how to safely begin the recovery process for things like home or vehicle repairs.

Massey says contacting your insurance provider is the best way to start the recovery process because they’ll tell you what your policy covers, what steps need to be taken to hire a contractor, and what your deductible is. She says that’s a good way to avoid “storm chasers,” scammers looking to take advantage of those unfamiliar with how to go about the repair process.

Massey says there are some key red flags to look out for like people going door-to-door claiming to be repair services offering immediate service, asking to be paid in cash, and asking for payment upfront. She explains that they often use high-pressure tactics to force you into making a decision without proper research. Massey says if you do end up buying their sales techniques, the work often never gets done and if it is, it’s done improperly costing thousands more than it would have before.

However, not all scammers use these techniques and some of the tactics may seem like they’re trying to help you. One example Massey provides is repair workers that claim they’ll waive your insurance deductible.

“It is illegal for contractors to waive your deductible or help you avoid paying it,” Massey explained.

She says your deductible is a legal part of your insurance policy and using false billing tactics or rebates to avoid paying it does constitute fraud.

Massey warns those getting checks from insurance companies for damages should never give those checks to the contractor. She says you should always deposit those checks into your bank account and then pay the contractors yourself. Massey urges anyone paying a contractor for repairs to keep documents like an itemized bill or an invoice to share with your insurance companies after work is completed. She also encourages anyone working with a contractor to have a contract with the person or company listing out exactly what work is being done.

Yet another concern following severe weather is price gouging.

“Pirce-gouging is illegal,” Massey said, “but high prices alone, does not mean that price gouging has occurred.”

She says when an area, like Brazos County, is designated as a natural disaster, it protects residents from businesses looking to charge a premium on essential supplies like food, water, or fuel. She says the state attorney general takes reports from consumers about potential price gouging and evaluates them for illegal activity. If you believe a business is engaged in price gouging, you can report it here or by going to the state attorney general’s website.

Lastly, if you rent the property you live at, that changes some of the recovery efforts.

Massey said you should contact your landlord first. After your landlord is notified, she encourages contacting your renter’s insurance provider. They’ll help you figure out what your policy covers and how they can help. If you have questions about what your rights are as a renter, you can go to the attorney general’s office to find out what they are and how you can use them as you work to recover.

Watch the full interview in the player above.

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