How to Be Safe After a Disaster
The need to file insurance claims and find contractors skyrockets on the heels of severe weather events.
Do you and your homeowners find yourselves trying to find reliable, safe people to work on homes and common areas? The good news is that there are specific strategies you can employ to ensure that your home and amenities receive the highest quality work possible.
Consider the following suggestions:
Spot a Scam
The best way to deal with a scam is to avoid contact as soon as you’re aware one is taking place.
For more information on how to spot a scam, read the following:
Be aware of phishing scams via phone and social media. When power grids fail, homeowners are more likely to receive scams from “private utility services” or “federal workers” who promise to get their power back. Know that real utility workers will never need your private financial information to restore power to your home or amenity.
Use caution with people who approach your directly. Spoofing is a very common tactic that involves faking email addresses and caller ID information. Initiating contact with a business is the best way to ensure you know who you’re partnering with.
Follow specific safety protocols with anyone who claims to be working with a government disaster assistance agency. Know that no one working for a government agency will ask for money or personal account information. Other tips to know include:
- Applications for disaster assistance with FEMA or the Small Business Administration never require fees.
- Hang up on any calls you receive claiming to be a government official. Spoofing techniques are incredibly common. Instead, go to the agency’s official website and call the number there.
- If someone approaches you claiming to work for a specific agency, ask for official identification.
- Know that government workers and agents are not allowed to ask for, or accept, money.
Related: Called ID Spoofing
Find the Contractor and Vendor Right for You
In the wake of an extreme weather event, finding the right contractor and vendor can make all the difference in weathering a storm’s aftermath easily. To find a contractor who treats you fairly, does the required work well, and finishes timely, consider the following tips:
Take precautions against price gouging. While prices are likely to rise in the wake of a severe weather event, price gouging is illegal. It’s important to know your rights and to safeguard against excessive price hikes. Consider the following tips:
- When receiving bids, use your preferred search engine to obtain a general idea of what your repairs should cost.
- Watch out for additional charges, like a hazard or storm fee. When in doubt, notify the Texas Attorney General’s
Never engage with unsolicited, door-to-door home improvement offers. Whether the knock on your door is someone promising to repair your plumbing or fix extensive water damage, it’s always better to obtain multiple bids.
We recommend finding at least 3 bids. Remember that the cheapest bid is likely the most cost effective for a reason: it likely signals the usage of inferior materials, less qualified and experienced labor, or the intention to not complete every item on your list.
When reviewing the companies who are submitting their bids, check for:
- Licenses (electricians, plumbers, HVAC contractors, and irrigation contractors all require a license)
- Complaints via the Better Business Bureau
- An established physical address
- Detailed, written quotes
- Proper Insurance
- Online reviews and a Google local listing
Related: Check for Licenses Using TDLR’s License Data Search Here and Check for Plumbing Licenses Here
Steer clear of contractors who want you to obtain city work permits for them. A contractor is supposed to obtain their own permits. Any work not completed according to state and city code is the responsibility of whoever holds the permit.
When partnering with a contractor, remember to:
- Request proof of building permits and trade permits before work begins. This will help you maintain quality control and help reduce your personal risk.
- Monitor your contractor’s inspection records regularly throughout the project.
Know the most common contract red flags. Since a signed contract is a legally binding document, it’s important to make sure the terms of the contract are fair and reasonable to the homeowner or association. We recommend not signing a contract if:
- You haven’t fully read the contract or don’t fully understand it.
- The contract has blanks.
- You’re being rushed into signing.
- They won’t give you a copy of the contract and other, relevant documents.
- They insist on full payment upfront.
- They won’t provide proof of insurance.
A contractor, even after you sign a fair contract, may pressure you to sign a certificate of completion early. Don’t sign unless the following criteria are met:
- The contractor has finished all work.
- The contractor has fully cleaned the site of his work.
- You have thoroughly inspected the area and are satisfied with the work.
Create Good… Cautiously!
Here at Spectrum, we’re big believers in helping out our fellow citizens and encourage everyone to do the same as they’re able.
If you find yourself wanting to give aid to those affected by the most recent weather disaster, we recommend utilizing the following precautions to ensure your hard-earned money is going into the right hands:
Only donate to well-known charities. While there are plenty of legitimate, less well-known charities, many fraudsters create charities in the wake of a disaster.
Always run a quick audit on the charity requesting funds. We recommend using sites like the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, or GiveWell to ensure the charity is legitimate. We also recommend taking the following additional precautions:
- Run an online search with the name of the charity and “scam.”
- Check to see the history of the charity – when in doubt, it’s usually better to go with charities with a longer history.
- Go directly to a charity’s website to submit funds separate from the source requesting a donation. While it can be convenient to simply click the link on the email, social media post, or text soliciting funds, slightly changing an organization’s name to make it appear legitimate is a common phishing tactic.
Always ask for a receipt/proof of your contribution for tax deduction purposes. This helps ensure that you are giving to a true non-profit.
Report charities you think might be frauds. The kindest thing you can do for others is to protect them from fraud. Contact the Department of Justice at [email protected] to report charities that don’t seem legitimate.
When considering who to donate to, there are a few other red flags to watch out for. These include:
- Any emails or texts thanking you for a past contribution (especially if you can’t remember donating to them previously).
- Someone who is pressuring you to donate immediately.
- Someone who insists on donations that are cash only or wired.
Reviewing Insurance Claims and Agents
When a community experiences severe weather, the association and the homeowners usually find themselves partnering with their insurance companies to file claims post-disaster.
To ensure that you are dealing with the correct professionals, we recommend instituting the following procedures:
- If you receive phone calls about a claim or policy, never give personal information or payment until you can independently verify the caller’s legitimacy.
- Rather than giving personal information to the caller, hang up and contact your agent directly using the number on your account statement.
- Be wary of contractors who call claiming to work with your insurance provider. Verify with the insurance company before proceeding.
We hope the above tips aid you and your homeowners in your quest to find the right help after a severe weather event. For more tips on how to navigate life in an HOA, subscribe to our blog today.