In the aftermath of every natural disaster comes a wave of
manmade misfortune. Con artists flock to ravaged areas to take
advantage of vulnerable people.
As cleanup after Superstorm Sandy gets underway, beware of
people out to make a quick buck -- whether it's through bogus
repair scams or the sale of cars fit that should be on the scrap
Here are tips to avoid getting duped.
1. Beware of unsolicited repair offers and other red flags
As soon as the clouds lift, "storm chasers" descend on hard-hit
neighborhoods, going door-to-door offering their services.
"We use the slogan, 'If you didn't request it, reject it,'" says
Frank Scafidi, spokesperson for the National Insurance Crime
Bureau. "If someone comes knocking on your door, they could be
legitimate, but they could be very illegitimate, too."
Shady, unlicensed repair people do shoddy work, use inferior
materials, or collect money and leave without finishing the work.
Don't let the sense of urgency to start repairs tempt you to hire
someone on the spot. Get a list of recommended licensed contractors
from people you trust.
Other red flags:
- Contractors who claim to work for the government. The Federal
Emergency Management Agency doesn't endorse contractors or loan
- Repair people who don't have a company street address, only a
post office box, and don't have business cards and company
- People who offer to inspect your property before you've
checked them out. Some bogus contractors inflict or invent damage
to make more money.
- Contractors who vave rundown equipment and unprofessional
- People who try to rush you into a decision.
2. Contact your home insurance company
Don't let a contractor elbow his way in between you and your
insurance company, advises the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.
Distrust contractors who say they'll work on your behalf with your
insurance company to get more money for the claim or to pay the
Work directly with your own insurance company to handle the
claim. Besides helping you understand your coverage, the insurance
company can also point you toward reputable contractors.
The Property Casualty Insurance Association of America (PCI)
provides a list of
toll-free claims numbers
for many insurance companies on its website.
3. Get at least three estimates for repair work
Compare the bids, and check whether complaints have been filed
against the contractors with the Better Business Bureau, PCI
4. Check contractor licensing, insurance and references
Verify that the contractor is properly insured and licensed.
Contact your state or local licensing agencies. Ask the contractor
for a list of references, and call them.
5. Get everything in writing
A contract for the work should state everything the contractor
will do, including labor and materials prices, scheduling and
cleanup procedures, PCI says. Don't sign anything with blank
spaces, which a shady contractor could fill in later.
6. Never pay for a lot of work upfront
Most contractors will want a reasonable down payment, PCI says,
but don't pay in full until the work is completed and inspected,
and don't fork over any money until the contract has been signed.
AARP New York says deposits or upfront fees should not total more
than 25 percent of the estimate, and you should pay them only after
materials reach your home and work begins.
7. Check a used car's history before buying
After any major flood, some cars that were totaled by insurers
are sold through auto-salvage auctions, shipped away and cleaned up
to look almost new. Lurking under those shiny exteriors are all
sorts of engine and electrical problems.
how to spot flood-damaged cars
Unscrupulous salvage operators and dealers try to sell the
damaged vehicles to unwary buyers, warns the National Insurance
Crime Bureau. Make sure you check a used car's history before
You can check a vehicle's history by paying a nominal fee for a
search of the federal
National Motor Vehicle Title Information System
or use the free
service provided by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Scafidi says the NICB will work with its member insurance
companies and law enforcement agencies to make sure that vehicles
totaled after Sandy are entered into the federal National Motor
Vehicle Title Information System and VinCheck.