Home repair scammers have likely followed Hurricane Matthew to North Carolina
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper is urging consumers affected by Hurricane Matthew to be cautious and do their research to obtain quality home repairs for a fair price.
"We don't want Hurricane Matthew to become a windfall for con artists," Cooper warned. "Watch out for scammers who travel to storm-ravaged areas, collect upfront fees, and then take off without doing the job."
The state experienced intense wind and rainfall from the storm, which caused flooding, fallen trees, and damaged roofs. Unfortunately, said A.G. Cooper, it is likely that home repair scammers followed the storm to North Carolina.
Consumers should remember the following regarding all storm repairs:
- Do not pay for repairs before the work is finished
- Do not do business with anyone who knocks on your door and offers repairs
- Always contact your insurance company before having repairs done
- Keep in mind that FEMA does not certify, endorse, or approve contractors.
Anyone suspecting that someone who has come to his or her home is trying to commit fraud should call local law enforcement immediately.
Consumers who have experienced flood damage should follow these tips:
- Do not pay in advance for flood repair and cleanup. Scammers who are paid upfront might set up a fan or take up a wet carpet and then leave before doing the real work.
- Use licensed experts only. Water damaged often necessitates work that should be performed only by licensed electricians, plumbers, and other skilled contractors. Before hiring such a person, do your research to make sure they are legitimately licensed.
- Obtain all required permits and inspections. It is likely that city or county officials will require permits and inspections for flood repairs. Consumers should check with their local governments to find out their requirements.
Those who have suffered roof damage should remember the following:
- Do not hire roofers who knock on your door or leave flyers. Legitimate local roofing companies do not solicit work door-to-door; this practice is engaged in only by drive-by roofers. Out-of-town roofers may leave town without finishing—or even starting—the work. In addition, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to find a non-local roofer to repair future leaks and other problems.
- Be on the lookout for storm chasers. "Storm chasers" are roofing scammers who visit or call neighborhoods that were hit hard after a storm and offer to inspect your roof. They almost always determine that the roof needs to be replaced, even when it does not.
- Promised a free roof? Be skeptical. Storm chasers claim that they can assist you in getting your homeowner's insurance policy to pay for a new roof in full. They do not mention that many policies include a deductible that homeowners will have to pay out-of-pocket, nor do they talk about the fact that homeowners filing large insurance claims—such as a claim for a new roof—usually experience increased premiums.
- Beware of signing exclusive contracts. These make it impossible for consumers to hire different and legitimate roofers who may offer to do the job for less or who have better reputations.
Be on the lookout for low-quality work and materials. Unlike local roofers, drive-by roofers do not have reputations to protect. This often leads to low-quality work and substandard materials.
Have any downed trees? Follow these tips:
- Never pay upfront for getting the trees removed. Out-of-state tree cutters sometimes obtain deposits from whole neighborhoods and then disappear without doing any work. Only pay once the job is finished and you are satisfied.
- See a fly-by-night service? Dodge them. These tree removal services come to town after the storm has passed. Get your jobs done with local companies that are more likely to stay and finish the work.
- Do your research. Check out the company by contacting the Consumer Protection Division of the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, and also take a look at reviews with the Better Business Bureau. Request local references and read online reviews.
- Ensure that the company is insured. Do not take a company's word for it that it is insured. Contact the insurance company directly and ask it either to confirm insurance or to send a copy of the tree removal service's certificate of insurance.
- Shop around for a fair price. Beware of unusually low or high prices. Find out the current rate for tree removal by obtaining written estimates for several companies and by asking friends and neighbors what they paid for the services.
- Take your time. Do not let a company rush you. If it tells you that its offer is good now or never, find another service. If the tree is neither on the house nor blocking the driveway, it may be better to wait a few days or even a few weeks to get it removed.
- Ask about debris removal. Ask whether or not the company will take the tree away from your property after it cuts it down. If it will not, you may have to pay separately for it to be removed.
"It's horrible to think that anyone would take advantage of people in this time of need but unfortunately experience tells us that some scammers will," Cooper said. "Trust your instincts, and if an offer seems suspicious, walk away and report it to us."
Consumers are also encouraged to be on the lookout for imposter fraud, in which scammers impersonate FEMA officials, utility workers, or insurance adjusters.
Anyone who needs to report a scam may do so by calling (877) 566-7226 or by filing a complaint with the North Carolina Attorney General's Office online