Beware Ohio storm chaser scams'Storm chasers may not have proper licensure for your area and may offer quick fixes or make big promises on which they won't deliver.'
By Kurt Ludlow,
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lawn-wilting drought. Record-high temperatures. Hurricane-force winds -- and the widespread darkness that resulted.
What's next, central Ohio? Pestilence?
It's already here -- in the form of unscrupulous contractors who've swarmed into the region to prey on the victims of nature's wrath.
The Better Business Bureau of Central Ohio said it started getting reports of scams within hours of the June 29 storm that left an estimated 1 million Ohioans without electricity.
"It is not uncommon for out-of-town storm chasers to solicit business after storms," said Kip Morse, president of the Columbus-based watchdog. "Storm chasers may not have proper licensure for your area and may offer quick fixes or make big promises on which they won't deliver."
Quick fixes and big promises might be particularly appealing to the thousands of Ohioans desperate to get roofs repaired, chimneys rebuilt or downed trees hauled away.
As tempting as it might be to hire the first person who comes along, homeowners wrestling with storm damage should get at least three or four quotes.
Even then, homeowners shouldn't automatically choose the lowest bid. If estimates for the same work vary widely, find out why: Substandard materials? Longer timetable?
Homeowners should be especially wary of contractors who show up at the door unsolicited.
"If somebody's coming to your home, that's a red flag right there," said BBB spokeswoman Joan Coughlin. "But if they have out-of-state licenses on them, or if there are no markings about what company they are, or (they) really can't identify themselves, that should be another red flag."
Homeowners shouldn't drop their guard just because a contractor claims an affiliation with an established local company. The BBB said some storm chasers pay substantial amounts of money to "borrow" such companies' names and reputations.
Other tips from the BBB:
* Investigate the track record of any builder or contractor you're thinking of hiring. Get a list of recent satisfied customers in your area, and ask friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers for recommendations. Verify that the individual or company is licensed, bonded and insured.
* Don't let any work begin without a signed, written contract that includes all the promises made orally, as well as a starting date, a completion date and a cost breakdown. Review the document, and make sure you understand it. If you make a down payment, it shouldn't be more than one-third of the project's total price.
* Pay only by check or credit card. If you opt for writing a check, make it payable to the company, not an individual. Pay only after the work is completed to your satisfaction and, with construction or repair jobs, don't pay with cash.
Copyright 2012 The Columbus Dispatch
All Rights Reserved