RALEIGH, N.C. — Natural disasters like storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding, and wildfires often bring out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help others in need. Unfortunately, the aftermath of a crisis also brings out contractors taking advantage of those who have already been victimized. The Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern NC (BBB)  is warning homeowners affected by natural disasters to beware of “fly-by-night” contractors soliciting business. Although not all traveling contractors are scammers, they may lack the proper licensing for your area, offer quick fixes, or make big promises they can’t deliver.

Check out BBB’s Rebuild with Trust pamphlet for more information on traveling contractors, insurance claims and donating to charities after tragedy. 

The moments after a storm or natural disaster can feel overwhelming. After everyone is accounted for and safe from immediate threat (including pets), cleanup and recovery begin. Storm victims should never feel pressured to make a hasty decision or choose an unknown contractor. Make temporary repairs if necessary so you can take the time to choose a trustworthy contractor. BBB has tips to help you recover safely and effectively after the storm!

Assess the damage

  • Assess the damage and take pictures. 
  • Contact your insurance company immediately. Inquire about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. This gets the ball rolling on the claim process.
  • Document the damage to your property (and autos). Take pictures and if possible, video evidence. 
  • Do not make any permanent repairs until you get approval from your insurance company. Your insurer might not fully reimburse you for permanent repairs made without their authorization. 

Contact your insurance company. Ask about your policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts, including those for food, temporary lodging, or other expenses that may be covered under your policy. Your insurance company may also have recommended contractors.

Clean and make temporary repairs 

  • Make minor repairs that will limit further damage to the home. If you have to make temporary repairs to protect your home from the elements, be sure to save all of your receipts.
  • Wear protective clothing. Long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and sturdy shoes. Be cautious!
  • Learn more about how to clean up after a tornado, from the Red Cross, including the supplies you’ll need and how to handle fire hazards such as gas, electricity, and chemicals.
  • Be on the lookout for price gouging. Report instances to your local BBB and Attorney General’s office.

Hire a contractor

  • Get references. Get referrals from friends and relatives and check BBB.org for ratings and reviews on contractors in the area. 
  • Do your research. Local and national companies may both do a fine job with your storm damage repair needs, but if you choose to do business with someone who is not local, be sure to understand who will be taking care of any service needs that may arise after the completion of the project.
  • Learn about fly-by-night contractors. These are businesses that follow storms in hope of a quick buck. Research anyone who offers you unsolicited assistance carefully. 
  • Ask about preventive features and installations. Check with your contractor about adding tornado-resistant features to help protect against future damage during the repair process.
  • Be wary regarding places you can’t see. While most contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing someone you do not know to inspect your roof and other areas of your house. An unethical contractor may actually create damage to get work. The same goes for attics, crawl spaces, ducts, and other places you cannot easily access or see for yourself.

Know what you sign

  • Read and understand anything you are asked to sign. Avoid signing an “estimate” or “authorization” form before you have actually decided to hire a particular contractor. 
  • Get a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials.
  • Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor.
  • Make sure you know the terms and conditions if you choose to cancel a contract.
  • Understand the terms and conditions and get copies of any warranties and guarantees.
  • A contractor should be responsible for obtaining all necessary permits, not you.
  • Head to BBB.org. Check out BBB’s tips for hiring a restoration contractor, hiring a tree service, and debris removal. 

Review contracts, deposits, and payments

  • Make sure the contract is specific. Be sure the contract specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor. Ask for a start and end date for the work to be done.
  • Don’t sign over insurance checks to contractors. Get an invoice from the contractor and pay them directly (preferably with a credit card, which offers additional fraud protection over other forms of payment). Don’t sign any documents that give the contractor any rights to your insurance claims. If you have questions, contact your insurance company or agent.
  • Never pay in full in advance. Do not pay with cash.
  • Don’t make a final payment or sign a completion agreement until all work is done to your satisfaction.

If you plan to donate to areas affected by the storm:

After a disaster or very public tragedy, people want to help in any way possible, and that often means contributing to fundraisers to help the survivors and the families of the victims. Sadly, scammers often take advantage of these moments of vulnerability to deceive donors. In addition, there are often campaigns set up by well-meaning individuals who may not be able to deliver on promised relief activities.

BBB Wise Giving Alliance urges donors to give thoughtfully and avoid those seeking to take advantage of the generosity of others. Visit this page for BBB’s tips on wise giving.

For more information, you can trust, visit BBB.org