Storm Season Alert: Watch Out For Scammers

Cynthia Rojas

April 27, 2012

After this year’s tragic and devastating storm season, thousands of families are trying to put their lives back together after losing loved ones, homes and businesses.   And through all the challenges they’re facing, there’s another threat that is lurking ready to add to their pain.   Unscrupulous contractors and trades people literally flock to disaster zones because of the potential for quick money from people who are desperate for help.   Even savvy consumers can fall victim to home repair scams.  Yet, with some simple due diligence, it’s possible to identify and defeat the home repair rip off artist.
I’ve learned about home repair rip-offs from experience.  My wife and I have built 2 homes over the last 20 years.   That was a painful yet effective education.  Now as host of a radio program called “The Consumer Team” my mission is to help consumers avoid rip offs.   Through the radio program, I have an opportunity to work with some incredible people across a number of home repair categories.   The education I received from these professionals is priceless.

Big Jobs Make For Big Home Repair Scams:   Storm repair and replacement of property is big business and it’s very profitable.   Because of the opportunity, storm ravaged areas become sort of a ‘California Gold Rush’ for contractors.   For example, after major hail storms, it’s not uncommon to see storm-chasing roofers drive cross country in search of quick cash.    And since many consumers are especially vulnerable after losing the security of home, they’re considered to be ‘low hanging fruit’ by these scam artists.


The Check List – How to Beat the Home Repair Rip Off:    Use these strategies to reduce your chances of being a victim of home repair rip offs and scams.

Get Multiple Bids:          Seems logical doesn’t it.  Yet, many consumers forget the number one rule of keeping the trades honest.    I recommend getting 3 bids.  When possible, ask neighbors and friends for referrals.      Radio, television, the web     and other media can be a source of leads but I really like   referrals.

Get References & Call Them!    Again, most consumers don’t call references.  You’ve got to.  In fact, I recommend drilling a bit deeper.  First, insist on recent job references and nothing over a year old.  Secondly, try to locate a current job for the contractor and visit the job site for a surprise inspection.  I also suggest calling The Better Business Bureau as well as doing a web search on the company.   And although the web can be skewed by planted reviews, the truth eventually gets out.

Use FEMA as an Asset:   FEMA maintains a presence in disaster areas for months.  Not only can they help you in dealing with contractors, but they’re well versed on all aspects of disaster recovery including tapping into government funds and other aid.  They are smart people who help you.


Beware of Magnet Signs:   Run from anyone who comes to your home with magnet signs on their truck.  They might as well post a sign that says “I was in a different industry last month”.   Look for companies that have ‘been in the business’ for years.

Go Local!   ‘Shopping local’ ferrets out the storm chasers.  But, beware of the hooligans who set up a local address and act like they’ve been part of the community for years.  After the job’s finished, local companies are much more motivated to keep their customers happy.    And staying true to your home town or region supports the local economy at a time that local business people need the support.

Don’t Fall for Deadlines, Promotions, Big Discounts and Other Closing Tricks:    A loud buzzer should go off in your brain whenever you hear the following statements:

“To get this price I need to get your signature today”     Pushing a deadline is straight off the used-car lot.  Don’t fall for it.

If you sign today I can give you a $6,000 discount”.   I hear HVAC (air conditioning/heating) companies on TV and Radio promising this every day.  Nobody is really discounting anything by $6,000.   Again, right off the used car lot.

Our free iPad offer runs out today.”     Go ahead and just buy an iPad.  You’ll get a better deal.

Don’t Fall for ‘The Fish’:   If you’re a person of faith, be wary of anyone placing the Christian fish in their logo or advertising.   Years ago someone figured out that if they ”looked” like a Christian, then people trusted them.   My apologies to all reputable Christians who use the fish symbol in their logo.  I suggest you remove it and let the way you live your life advertise your faith.

Contracts and Deposits:     If you’re dealing with a big ticket item, get your attorney to review the paperwork.   If a company says they need a ‘deposit’ to buy supplies, don’t pay it.   This is a huge red flag and suggests that the company doesn’t have adequate resources.    Your approach to payment will vary with different jobs but generally I don’t like to give anybody a dime until they show up at my home with a crew and the supplies for the job.   And even then, you need to retain or hold back enough money to keep the contractor motivated to finish the job properly.   You can learn much about payment terms within an industry in the process of getting at least 3 bids.

Bills Paid Affidavit:  On large jobs, consider getting an ‘all bills paid’ affidavit (Lien Release) from both contractors and suppliers.   This will prevent anyone from coming back at you for money you’ve already paid.

Workman’s Comp Coverage:   This is a tough one.  Many excellent tradesmen and contractors contend they can’t afford insurance, and in some cases, their pricing is lower than companies that carry the insurance.  Still, in the long run, you’re better off paying more and knowing that you’re covered.  If someone is injured or killed while working on your home, you will be a target.

Help The Elderly:   Because they’re often isolated, home repair rip off artists frequently target the elderly.    If you have older folks in your neighborhood that need work done on their home, offer to give them some help.  They’ll appreciate you and you’ll feel good helping out.

Spread The Word:  Thanks for reading this article.  I hope it helps you make better and more informed choices.  Feel free to forward this blog to your friends and don’t hesitate to email me with your questions.   I don’t have all the answers but I generally know who does and can send you in the right direction.

Listen to The Consumer Team:   Learn more about being a smarter, more successful consumer by listening to The Consumer Team program on 570 KLIF Radio, Saturdays at 2PM (Central).   Get more information at

-Pete Thomson
The Consumer Team