BBB on Homes: Watch out for storm-related scam artists

The greater Houston area narrowly avoided major impact from Hurricane Laura, but it is important to remember that the hurricane season is far from over. With a number of weeks remaining in a very active hurricane season, it is always good to prepare in advance.

After any hurricane or tropical storm, scammers unfortunately will take advantage of storm victims. There are many reputable contractors, but we also receive complaints from homeowners reporting scammers who take their money and never perform the work. In other cases, scammers will perform shoddy work or only partly complete the repairs before abandoning the job. Scammers only cause further difficulty and stress for storm victims.

The Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South Texas offers the following tips for dealing with storm damage and avoiding these contractor scams:

 Contact your insurance company as soon as possible. Inform your policy holder of the damage and determine what they will and will not cover and any requirements for your claim. Be sure to document the damage to your property or your car and take photos if possible. If you are staying at a temporary location, keep any receipts for lodging or food, as some of these costs may be covered by your insurance, depending on what your policy allows.

 Check out any business with the BBB. If a business approaches you offering to repair your home, ask for contact information and allow yourself time to fully research the business, check for references, and review the BBB report at BBBHouston.org to determine if there are any issues of concern.

 Avoid high-pressure sales pitches. Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Be proactive in selecting a company and not reactive to sales solicitations. Make temporary repairs if necessary. For major repairs, take time to shop around and get three or four estimates based on the same specifications and materials.

 Be wary of door-to-door solicitors. Be especially cautious of those who claim to have leftover materials from a job “down the street” or who do not have a permanent place of business. Also, be leery if a worker shows up on your doorstep to announce that your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage in your home, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it.

 Require a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used and the price breakdown. Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor. Be sure their name, address, and phone number along with a start and end date for the work are included in the contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety; don’t sign a blank contract and a copy of the signed contract is to be given to you at time of signature. Always remember, in Texas, you have three days to cancel any contract for a sale made at your home.

 Verify if the business is insured. Once you have found a contractor, request proof of a current insurance certificate covering workman’s compensation, property damage and personal liability.

 Never pay in full for all repairs in advance, and do not pay cash. While many companies may ask for a deposit, BBB suggests that no more than one-third of the job be paid up front.

The Better Business Bureau is an unbiased nonprofit organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Visit www.bbbhouston.org or call 713-868-9500. Leah Napoliello is senior director of Investigative Services with the BBB of Greater Houston and South Texas. Send questions to Leah Napoliello, Better Business Bureau, 1333 West Loop South, Suite 1200, Houston, TX 77027, or e-mail [email protected] Include your mailing address and phone number.

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