DES PLAINES, IL, January 18, 2023 — As Americans enjoyed the holiday season with loved ones, Winter Storm Elliott hit the nation from coast to coast. According to modeling and analysis conducted by Karen Clark & Co, the winter storm caused nearly $5.4 billion in insured losses across 42 states. Separately, record rainfall, flooding, and mudslides continue to wreak havoc on residents of California with some areas of the state recording nearly a foot of rain in the past 30 days. With extreme weather impacting millions of homeowners and business owners nationwide, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) is warning residents to stay vigilant against dishonest contractors and scammers.
“Recovering from a catastrophic weather event is a daunting task and homeowners and business owners should not be victimized twice,” said NICB President and CEO David Glawe. “After most disasters, dishonest contractors use well-rehearsed, predatory practices to exploit stressed victims, as well as insurance providers, resulting in higher insurance costs for everyone.”
Deceitful contractors often abuse Assignment of Benefits (AOBs) contracts by convincing homeowners to sign away their rights to any claims under the homeowner’s insurance policy. Fraudulent contractors then inflate the claims to secure larger settlements – without benefit to the victim homeowner.
Before hiring a contractor, call your insurance company. There is no need to rush into an agreement with a contractor who solicits your repair work, especially if it was not requested.
NICB suggests the following tips before hiring a contractor:
- Get more than one estimate.
- Get everything in writing. Cost, work to be done, time schedules, guarantees, payment schedules, and other expectations should be detailed and itemized.
- Request references and do the research.
- Ask to see the salesperson’s driver’s license and write down the license number and their vehicle’s license plate number.
- Look out for out-of-state contractor licenses, as well as vehicle registrations, as these may also indicate possible fraudulent contractors.
- Never sign a contract with blanks; terms you don’t agree with can be added later.
- Never pay a contractor in full or sign a completion certificate until the work is finished.
- Ensure reconstruction is up to current code.
- Make sure you review and understand all documents sent to your insurance carrier. Signing an Assignment of Benefits agreement transfers your insurance rights to the contractor. Know what that means for you.
- Never let a contractor pressure you into making a quick decision or hiring them.
- Never let a contractor interpret the language of your insurance policy.
- Never let a contractor discourage you from contacting your insurance company. Contact your insurance company first.
- Remember, if you didn’t request it, reject it!
Furthermore, some deceitful contractors will state they are supported by the government. However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does not endorse individual contractors or loan agencies. Always request official identification from those claiming to represent governmental agencies. Consumers should call FEMA for more specifics at (800) 621-FEMA.
If you believe you have been a victim of fraud, call the NICB at 1-800-TEL-NICB. For additional information, visit NICB’s website, www.NICB.org.