Oklahoma tornado: Avoiding scams and getting help

Oklahoma tornado: Avoiding scams and getting help

Dealing with the heartbreak and frustration of property loss or damage following a major storm like the tornado in Oklahoma can cause homeowners much stress, but dealing with additional loss or harm caused by a shady storm-chasing contractor can make things worse. To protect yourself financially, follow these tips:

1. Avoid door-to-door solicitations

Out-of-state companies often rush into disaster areas where widespread damage has occurred, looking to make a quick buck from unsuspecting homeowners, so be wary of door-to-door solicitors.

2. Always get multiple estimates

Although it may be difficult with busy contractors dealing with sheer number of other homeowners seeking to repair damage to their homes or property, don’t rush. Always get at least three estimates so you can make an apples-to-apples comparison.

3. Be on-site for any property inspections

Do not let anyone inspect your property without you or another responsible spouse or family member present. Crooked contractors have been known to fake storm damage with hammers or golf balls to increase the overall cost to the insurance company. If you have not vetted the contractor, it’s best to deny them access to your property.

4. Check the company’s details

Before signing a contract or hiring a contractor, verify the business’ contact information including phone and physical address. Many storm-chasing contractors will set up temporary offices to appear like a local company or use a local company’s name. Ask for local references.

5. Check the license

Check contractor licensing with the Oklahoma’s Construction Industries Board.  For more licensing info resources, try the Angie's List Licensing database to check.

6. Verify bonding and insurancee

Contact the company's insurance and bonding companies to determine whether their liability and worker's compensation policies are big enough to cover your job.

7. Play your cards close to the chest

When dealing with an insurance claim, do not to tell bidding contractors how much your policy will cover for the damages. Some companies will conveniently estimate the cost of repairs to near or exactly that amount. Instead, ask for a “scope of loss” that outlines materials and work needed, without prices, by a trusted contractor, public adjuster or insurance company.

8. Avoid large down payments

A contractor may ask for a down payment, but be wary if they want a large deposit or cash payment that's more than 1/3 of the job's total cost. Withhold at least 10 percent until the job is completed to your satisfaction.

9. Don't sign away your settlement

Never sign over your homeowner's insurance settlement upfront and avoid a company that offers to pay or help with your deductible. In some states, deductible help is considered insurance fraud.

10. Make sure you're covered when the job is complete

Get lien waivers from the contractor or subcontractor at the same time you make a payment for materials and work. A lien waiver constitutes proof of payment and protects you if a general contractor fails to pay subcontractors.

11. Know your contract rights

Remember that in many areas you have a legal right to cancel a contract within three business days if you signed it based on the contractor's visit to your home. After natural disasters, state or local officials may extend that time frame. Don't sign a contract with blank spaces. Always obtain an original copy with both party's signatures.  

Here's contact information for other resources that provide assistance:

Disaster survivor assistance hotline

Provides access to disaster aid and resources

Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management

Oklahoma Natural Gas
Service line: 800-664-5463
Emergency line: 800-458-4251

CenterPoint Energy
Service line: 866-275-5265
To report a gas leak: 888-876-5786

Public Utilities – City of Moore
Emergency line: 405-793-5080

City of Newcastle – Emergency Management Services

City of Newcastle – Water Department

Oklahoma Electric Cooperative
Emergency line: 405-321-2024

City of Moore—Emergency Management
Emergency Management: 405-793-5171

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Damaged homes stand tarped, waiting for repairs following Monday’s storm. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)
Damaged homes stand tarped, waiting for repairs following Monday’s storm. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)

Recovery efforts has begun in Oklahoma, but that means scammers and "storm chasers" are at work too. A highly-rated contractor on Angie's LIst gives tips on avoiding scams.

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