After the storms come the scammers. That’s the warning after major weather alerts and events from Bucks County Consumer Protection.
Scammers, known as “storm chasers,” to the county office, come to the region every summer and look to scam homeowners who have had their houses damaged by storms. As storm frequency and severity has increased in recent years, including confirmed tornados and impacts from tropical storms and hurricanes in Bucks, the county wants property owners on alert.
How home improvement scams work in Bucks County
Michael Bannon, the director of Bucks County Consumer Protection, said scammers search for storm-ravaged communities.
“They end up going to the devastated areas, knock on doors and ask to do work on their house,” Bannon said.
Scammers often tell homeowners they can do the work cheap, that they will work with their homeowner’s insurance and help with claims, making the process easy for them.
But, often owners are left with improper repairs and costs that insurance denies, he said. Bucks County residents have had little recourse once the contractor moves on as several do not have correct contact information, Bannon said.
This also creates future problems. Many contractors will decline working on projects that were not repaired or upgraded properly, according to Bannon.
“Every single summer for the last 10 summers, we’ve seen an increase in storms. As we see more severe weather, scam artists try to and have been capitalizing on that more and more,” Bannon said.
Bannon also noted the storm chasers take advantage of emotions while storm victims are overwhelmed.
“When you’re faced with a decision like this, you’re in a desperate situation and feel vulnerable. We’re seeing people get scammed because they want quick fixes to help their anxieties, and these scammers create a feeling of safety,” he said.
During hail or heavy rain, siding often faces the most damage and are a target for scams. Also during the increased tornadoes in recent years, there have been scams to repair roofs or to remove tree limbs.
Tips against home improvement scams
Bannon offered these tips:
Government agencies offering any type of storm-related assistance will NEVER call, text or email asking for financial account information. There is no fee required to apply for or get disaster assistance from agencies like FEMA or any type of government official. If someone reaches out to you claiming to be a government official just hang up.
If your property was damaged due to a severe storm, and someone does contact you, look up the telephone number they are calling from or the government’s official website to make sure it is legitimate.
If someone does show up at your door, they must provide official identification. Ask for this and take the time to call the phone number associated with his/her agency.
Never give your personal information without checking to make sure that you are talking with a legitimate source. Scam artists can sound very convincing.
In Pennsylvania, Home Improvement Contractors must be registered and have what is called an HIC#, which stands for Home Improvement Contractor number. They must register with the PA Attorney General and for a contractor to register, they must have proof of insurance and follow certain regulations.
For more information on hiring a Home Improvement Contractor, visit buckscounty.gov/consumerprotection
This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Bucks County home improvement scams come after summer storms
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