Don’t Be Victimized (Again) After a Disaster or Accident
The aftermath of a natural disaster or accident can bring out the best in people. Occasionally, though, it brings out the worst: Scam artists sometimes lurk in the shadows of traumatic events, ready to prey on victims by offering fraudulent services.
In the Wake of a Storm
After a tornado, flood, hurricane or other natural disaster, criminals sometimes canvass neighborhoods looking for opportunities to deceive victims in need of cleanup or repair services. These precautions can help keep you from getting scammed.
- Hire local contractors who are both licensed and insured. Request a copy of their certificate of liability insurance.
- Write down the driver's license and license plate numbers of the salesperson.
- Don't settle on the first bid; get more than one estimate. Don't let the contractor push you into signing an agreement on the spot.
- Check references for any contractor you're considering.
- Consult the Bureau of Consumer Protection and Better Business Bureau to see if there are complaints against the contractor you're considering.
- Get everything in writing – cost, work to be done, timeline, guarantees and payment schedule. Never rely on a verbal commitment.
- Before signing an agreement, strongly encourage the contractor to meet with your insurance adjuster and physically inspect your entire home.
- Don't sign a contract that has blank lines. Deceptive contractors may fill them in later with unacceptable terms.
- Get lien waivers from anyone you pay for home repairs.
- Once the work begins, ask your local building inspector to visit the job site often.
- Wait until the work is done before you pay a contractor in full or sign a completion certificate.
After a Crash
If someone approaches you after an accident and says they're from your insurance company, call your agent or adjuster to verify their statement.
Here are some more recommendations from the National Insurance Crime Bureau:
- Be cautious of anyone alleging to be an insurance representative who immediately solicits you for treatment at a medical facility. In some states, it is illegal for attorneys to approach victims at an accident site.
- Verify the credentials of your attorney and doctor with the state medical license board or bar association.
- Watch for referrals. Some attorneys will insist an accident victim seek medical treatment with a specific doctor. This relationship may be part of an illegal medical fraud operation.
- Don't be talked into an injury. If your doctor prescribes excessive treatment for seemingly minor conditions, seek a second opinion.
- Keep your insurance agent in the loop. Document your office visits so your insurance provider can uncover potential discrepancies and avoid unnecessary payments to dishonest medical providers.