May 6, 2009
Don’t Be Victimized Twice
DES PLAINES, Ill. – While it is impossible to prevent natural disasters we can certainly protect ourselves from being victimized twice by the same event.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Storm Prediction Center, in 2008 there were 2,192 tornadoes across the United States. In 2007, the National Interagency Fire Center recorded 85,822 wildfires that burned more than nine million acres of land across the country. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina alone accounted for $41 billion in property damage. While these natural disasters result in significant property loss, criminal behavior tied to these catastrophes is an added economic burden.
Each year, policyholders receive millions of dollars from insurance companies so that they can rebuild their homes and businesses. Unfortunately, those claim dollars are often the target of unscrupulous individuals who prey on disaster victims at a time when they are emotionally devastated and most susceptible to fast-talking scam artists who present themselves as concerned contractors.
After a disaster, professionals often go door-to-door in neighborhoods which have sustained damage to offer clean up services and repair/rebuilding services. Most of these business people are reputable, but many are not. The dishonest ones may execute schemes to defraud innocent victims. One such scheme is to pocket the payment and never show up for the job or never complete a job that has started. Another scheme is to use inferior materials and perform shoddy work not up to code in order to pocket more profit.
“When individuals are consumed with anguish, they may not sense that others are trying to defraud them,” said Joe Wehrle, NICB president and chief executive officer. “By educating yourself you can avoid becoming the next victim of an unscrupulous contractor.”
If your property has been damaged or destroyed by a disaster, consult the following checklist before hiring a contractor to repair or rebuild:
- 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
- Demand references and check them out
- Ask to see the salesperson’s driver’s license and write down the license number and their vehicle’s license plate number
- Never sign a contract with blanks; unacceptable terms can be added later
- Never pay a contractor in full or sign a completion certificate until the work is finished and ensure reconstruction is up to current code
- Make sure you review and understand all documents sent to your insurance carrier
- Never let a contractor pressure you into hiring them
- Never let a contractor interpret the insurance policy language
- Never let a contractor discourage you from contacting your insurance company
If you believe you have been approached by an unlicensed or unscrupulous contractor or adjuster, or have been encouraged to fabricate an insurance claim, contact your insurance company or call the NICB Hotline at 1-800-TEL-NICB (1-800-835-6422).
About the National Insurance Crime Bureau: headquartered in Des Plaines, Ill., the NICB is the nation's leading not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to preventing, detecting and defeating insurance fraud and vehicle theft through information analysis, investigations, training, legislative advocacy and public awareness. The NICB is supported by more than 1,000 property and casualty insurance companies and self-insured organizations. NICB member companies wrote nearly $343 billion in insurance premiums in 2008, or more than 82 percent of the nation’s property/casualty insurance. To learn more visit www.nicb.org.