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Experts Offer Tips on Staying Safe From Unscrupulous Contractors After Storms

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Natural disasters like tornadoes can bring the best out of communities, but inevitably those same disasters can bring a flood of questionable contractors, and experts are warning residents to protect themselves from falling victim to their schemes.

“Just like clockwork, they will take advantage of the situation. And it’s really very heartless. They’re relentless,” Steve Bernas of the Chicago chapter of the Better Business Bureau says.

The contractors, often referred to as “storm chasers,” will try to blend in with reputable contractors – called to the scene by residents who hired them – because they’ve worked with them or because they did their homework, according to experts.

They often prey on homeowners at their most vulnerable, seeking help after storms damage their homes and just trying to get the damage fixed as soon as possible.

Experts, like Bernas, recommend doing extensive research on any contractor whom you’re looking to hire for service, saying that just doing the legwork can save you thousands of dollars, and years’ worth of headaches.

“It’s better to do that hour or day or research than to take years of painstaking involvement, trying to get it fixed or get your money back,” he said.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul agrees, sending out a press release Tuesday urging homeowners to use caution when hiring contractors after a storm.

“We have too often seen scammers take advantage of the devastation caused by tornados or other natural disasters and use it as an opportunity to line their own pockets,” Raoul said. “As residents begin assessing damage and making repairs, I encourage people to use the resources provided by my office, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, and others to ensure they choose a trustworthy contactor. People should be wary of any individual who solicits home repair or insurance adjusting services door-to-door.”

Raoul urges residents to be wary of contractors who go door-to-door to offer repairs or estimates. The state also operates a Consumer Fraud Hotline (which can be contacted at 1-800-386-5438) to help homeowners determine whether a contractor can be trusted, and the Better Business Bureau can also help, with a list of members on its website.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation also publishes a list of licensed roofing contractors.

Experts also have a bit of advice that will surely make homeowners feel better: most insurance plans cover damage to homes from tornadoes and other weather-related events.

“If you have the right coverage, you are covered for wind damage for your property or your business or rental property,” Loretta Worters of the Insurance Information Institute says.

Most policies also provide reimbursement for living expenses while a property is uninhabitable due to a covered lost, and policy holders are encouraged to call their insurance company immediately to start the claims process.

That is a critically important step, and experts urge residents to do so before agreeing to any contracts for repair work.

Residents are also urged to make an inventory of items damaged or destroyed, and to secure property from further damage or theft.

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