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East Coast Scams Scarier Than 'Frankenstorm'

Written by on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 7:00 pm

As with so many other hurricanes and tropical storms, as soon as the weather pattern dubbed "Frankenstorm" passes through the East Coast, scam artists will descend upon ravaged communities in an attempt to re-victimize property owners already suffering from Mother Nature's ravages.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) initially dubbed Hurricane Sandy "Frankenstorm" for it's potential to become a horrific "perfect storm" on Halloween. The forecast eased off a bit once the storm hit land and became less intensive.

Nevertheless, the storm was still packing hurricane gusts in some locations Monday and early Tuesday (All Hallows Eve) as some estimates put potential damages in the storm area at $10 to $20 billion with the safety of homes and other properties in the balance. At one point an estimated 6.5 million homes were without power.

You can bet miscreants were rubbing their grimy hands, waiting to take you as soon as weather permits.

Those post-storm "mothers" typically masquerade as two types of professionals, general contractors and insurance adjusters.

Here's how not to be taken and, instead, leave them twisting in the wind.

Bogus contractors

A fly-by-night contractfraud targets the vulnerability you experience because you want to get your home whole as soon as possible.

Keep cool.

• Get at least three estimates in writing that itemize the work to be done. Get the estimates only from contractors licensed by your state or local regulatory agency. Check their Better Business Bureau record.

Depending upon your location, Consumers' Checkbook , Angie's List , the trade association, National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) , and other trade associations may have a track record of contractors you are considering.

It's better to hunker down and wait for the lights to come back on so you can verify licenses online or by phone than to take for granted a license a contractor might present.

• Take the time to check references of established contractors who normally work your community. Demand copies of the contractor's general liability and workers' compensation insurance policies. Consider requesting the contractor's driver's license number and vehicle license plate.

Let the contractor know you will vet him or her until you are satisfied. A good contractor will work with you in this vetting process. Avoid contractors who balk when you ask them the hard questions.

• Never pay cash upfront. Never pay for more than one-third the cost of a job up front. A professional contractor understands your post-storm predicament and should be financially able to take on jobs that may be paid with insurance benefits.

• Once you've obtained estimates, work with your insurance company to discuss those estimates, repairs and your coverage. Don't allow the contractor to interpret your insurance policy.

• When you decide on a contractor, have them sign a detailed contract for the work with a guarantee in writing. Avoid verbal agreements like the plague.

Phony insurance adjusters

• Your insurance company has its own adjusters who will evaluate your property damage and hold your hand through the claims process, at no charge. A bona fide licensed contractor's estimate can help you through this process.

• In some states, you can hire a licensed public adjuster to represent you and help you negotiate your insurance payment, but they typically charge 10-15 percent of any insurance settlement. Stick with adjusters licensed in your state. Check with your state insurance department to determine if an adjuster is properly licensed and if he or she has any complaints or disciplinary actions. Also consider adjusters affiliated with the trade association National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters (NAPIA) .

• Beware of schemes. Red flags include adjusters who demand upfront fees, refer you to contractors (that's a conflict of interest), file inflated claims and try to access your Social Security number and other personal data to use to steal your identity.

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  About the author, Broderick Perkins

Individual news stories are based upon the opinions of the writer and does not reflect the opinion of Realty Times.