Beware of ‘storm chasers’ and other doorstep contractors

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CROMWELL --  While Connecticut did not suffer like other parts of the country, Connecticut Better Business Bureau says that has not stopped “Storm Chasers” warns that storm chasers continue attempts to cheat consumers and businesses out of money.

Storm Chasers typically follow the headlines and quickly move into regions hard hit by wind, flooding and the other ravages of weather.  Nonetheless, unethical contractors will visit neighborhoods to convince consumers and businesses that their property needs urgent repairs.

“Just because an individual has what looks like a registration number on their truck, business cards or other marketing material does not mean they are capable of doing the job safely or properly,” says Connecticut Better Business Bureau spokesman Howard Schwartz.  “They may be operating illegally, lack insurance or proper licensing and training.”

Scam contractors attempt to lure their victims with an appealingly low price, urge them to hand over a deposit and sign a contract on the spot, so that work may begin the following day.  Unfortunately, there are a number of possible unfortunate problems for victims.

A rogue operator may ask you to sign a contract that would allow them to negotiate on your behalf with your insurance company.  In cases like these, the insurance check may go straight to the contractor regardless of the quantity and quality of work.

Some of them will complete the job as agreed upon, but consumers complain to BBB about substandard craftsmanship and materials.  If they disappear after working on a roof, electrical system or other property, you will have to find a reputable specialist to finish the job.

Some contractors don’t want to fix work that was botched by someone else because of liability risks, especially if the materials are not suitable for the job or if the work was not carried out properly. That means victims will be required to have the job redone at their own expense, and will lose any deposit paid in advance.

The chances of recovering your money depend to a large extent on whether you can find the criminal. Generally, after scamming consumers in one neighborhood or region, they will move on to find more victims in other states, cities and towns.

Unfortunately, in the worst case scenario, a storm chaser will pocket your money and disappear without doing any work at all.

Connecticut BBB offers tips to avoid problems with unethical contractors:

  • Don’t do business at your front door – This is probably the worst way to make a buying decision.  Criminals and scammers are hoping to get you to sign a contract for potentially expensive work without allowing you sufficient time to read it and do your research.
  • Get several quotes – Compare the same work and materials with a minimum of three contractors.  If one quote is too high or low, ask why.
  • Obtain recent references – Check with people who have had work done by the same company within the past year or two.  The more recent the better.  Ownership of a business can change hands quickly, and employees who did such a good job six months ago may be replaced with others who are not as careful or reliable.
  • Verify their licensing – Anyone can slap a fake registration number on a truck or a business card.  You can check on their license and registration through the Department of Consumer Protection and the Secretary of The State’s office. In addition, ask for contact information for their insurer to make sure they have current insurance.
  • Get everything in writing – You should receive a written estimate that includes the materials, their cost, estimated cost of labor and all verbal promises.
  • Check with Better Business Bureau – Look up a business or professional’s BBB Business Review to see what sort of experiences other consumers have had, or select a trustworthy professional from the Better Business Bureau Accredited Business Directory.

You will find additional information and tips at bbb.org/Connecticut.