Homeowners: Beware of these common scams after a natural disaster


Hurricane Ian hits FloridaGeorgia and South Carolina this week, causing billion in damages businesses and homeowners. But the storm is not the only threat to those who stand in its path.

Natural disasters like Ian routinely attract fraudsters, sometimes dubbed “storm chasers,” who pose as reputable contractors and canvass damaged communities to deprive unsuspecting homeowners of insurance payouts or other benefits, such as private donations or federal funds for restoration.

But there are ways to spot scammers, experts told CBS MoneyWatch. It starts simply by realizing the types of scams that often lead to the devastation left behind by hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and other disasters. Here are three of the most common scams, along with tips from insurance professionals on how to avoid being taken for a ride.

Fake suppliers

Fake contractors often show up a day or two after a major storm hits an area and set up shop in a shopping center or recreational vehicle, said David Glawe, director general of the National Insurance Crime Bureau. These scammers contact homeowners and tell them that workers can begin repairs on their home immediately if they sign a contract with the company. However, the contract reassigns any upcoming insurance payout to the sham company instead of its intended beneficiary, the homeowner.

People affected by a major storm are trying to get back on their feet as quickly as possible, and these fake contractors are like “vultures” who prey on people’s understandable desire to resume life as usual, Glawe said.

“Vulnerable people will think they’re getting a quick fix, but they’re not,” he told CBS MoneyWatch.

If someone contacts you claiming to be a supplier, write down the person’s name and phone number, Glawe advised. Research the company online to make sure it is licensed to work in your state or city. If a company has bad reviews from the Better Business Bureau or doesn’t have a registered license, it’s likely a scam.

“If your Spidey sense fails, reject them,” Glawe said.

Scrapyard of roofs

Another common scam is for someone to visit your home after a severe storm and offer to inspect your roof for damage.

Once on your roof, the person pretends to notice or actually intentionally damages your property, sometimes using golf balls under their shoes to simulate hail puncture marks. They will then offer to help the homeowner file a claim with the insurance provider. Fake roofers get paid by convincing the homeowner to file a claim with their insurance company and then sending them a check.

One red flag is when a person goes door-to-door offering roofing work, uses pushy sales tactics and demands payment upfront, said Logan McFaddin, regional manager covering Florida for the Property Casualty Insurance Association of America.

“Never pay in full up front,” she said. “That’s not how legitimate contractors work. Payments are made in installments as the work is done.”

McFaddin said the best strategy is to ask the person at your door for a list of references. A reputable company should be able to provide that information, she said. Experts also recommend getting quotes from two or three licensed roofers before making any decisions, she said.

No-show debris removal

Bad actors usually target the elderly or disabled for this scam. Someone pretending to be a moving company will go door to door asking homeowners to sign a contract and pay a deposit to have fallen tree limbs, debris and trash removed from their lawn. The person leaves with a signed contract and deposit money, but no one comes back to do the job.

The best way to avoid getting ripped off is to never give anyone a deposit for future services and only offer to pay after the work is done, Glawe said.

“Once you pay them that money, it’s out the door and you might not get it back,” he said.


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