Angie’s List: Consumers Beware -- Storm Chasers on the Ground in Oklahoma

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Angie’s List is warning consumers in the Moore, Okla. area – and anyone who’s suffered through a storm – to be on guard against unscrupulous people who offer to help rebuild, but who aren’t qualified or even prepared to follow through.

“It’s a shame to have to warn homeowners trying to rebuild that there’s still danger out there, but there is definitely is,” said Angie's List Founder Angie Hicks,

Angie’s List is warning consumers in the Moore, Okla. area – and anyone who’s suffered through a storm – to be on guard against unscrupulous people who offer to help rebuild, but who aren’t qualified or even prepared to follow through.

“We’re hearing about three common scams already being tried in Oklahoma,” said Angie Hicks, Founder of Angie’s List, which provides consumer reviews on local contractors and services. “One highly rated service company actually saved a woman from a work-for-cash scam.”

Angie’s List sent a crew to Oklahoma to gather information and offer advice to homeowners.

Some examples of scams they learned were already in play:

1. One roofer was putting tarp over a client’s hole-ridden roof when a woman walking by asked how much he was charging for the service. Tarping is something highly qualified, reliable roofers don’t charge for upfront. They recoup the money as part of the overall roofing job. The woman had just been to the bank because she’d lost her checkbook in the storm, planning to pay a person who had said he’d tarp her roof if she paid upfront. The roofer tarping her neighbor’s home told her to put her money away and tarped hers as well.
2. Another highly rated roofer said he’s been approached by out-of-town businesses asking if he would sell the rights to use his company name so the out-of-town company could get work. He refused.
3. These and other Oklahoma contractors also warn of the blank contract scam whereby homeowners are asked to sign contracts ahead of the insurance process. These contracts usually bind the homeowner to hiring that company.
4. Arguably worse are the people who pose as roofers who climb on top of the house to “inspect.” In some cases, what they’re really doing is casing the property and then come back to steal things, contractors say.

“It’s a shame to have to warn homeowners trying to rebuild that there’s still danger out there, but there is definitely is,” Hicks said. “If a stranger knocks on your door and promises quick repairs for cash up-front, do your family a favor and just walk away.”

In Oklahoma, plumbers, electricians and heating, ventilation and air conditioning contractors must be licensed by the state. Roofers must be registered. These contractors also must provide proof of liability insurance, and display license or registration numbers on all contracts, bids and advertising to legally work in the state.

Out-of-state contractors doing work in Oklahoma must register for an employer identification number (EIN) from the Oklahoma Tax Commission and Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. They also must post a bond equal to three times the tax liability or 10 percent of any contract they get in the state.

“Out-of-state doesn’t mean the contractor is not qualified,” Hicks said. “But you need to check them out to be sure they’re following the laws and truly qualified for your project.”

Angie’s List: 7 Steps to Steer Clear of Shady Storm Chasers
1. Just say no: If a stranger comes to your storm-ravaged yard offering to repair your roof, remove fallen trees, or perform other major work if you’ll just pay cash, just say no.
2. Do your research: Check Angie’s List to get some insight into local service companies. Be sure to check the status of the contractor’s license, bonding and liability insurance. Hire a company with a permanent, local address. You have few options if the contractor is from outside your state, the job goes awry or the roofer disappears.
3. Practice patience: When severe weather hits, tree services, roofers, plumbers, and hauling companies are in high demand. The best contractors are typically the busiest, so beware of the company with time on its hands.
4. Make sure you’re there: Don’t let anyone inspect your property without you present. They might fake damage with hammers or golf balls and drive up repair costs.
5. Understand your insurance: Learn what your insurance policy covers before a storm hits. Never sign over your homeowner’s insurance settlement upfront and avoid a company that offers to pay or help with your deductible. In some states, deductible help is considered insurance fraud.
6. Get written estimates: While an offer of a quick fix can be tempting, avoid settling on the first contractor who comes along and offers to do the job. Get at least three different estimates in writing that cover price, materials, and a timeline for completing the job.
7. Know your contract rights: Remember that in many areas you have a legal right to cancel a contract within three business days if you signed it based on the contractor’s visit to your home. After natural disasters, state or local officials may extend that time frame. Don’t sign a contract with blank spaces. Always obtain an original copy with both party’s signatures.

“Don’t cave into pressure or scare tactics,” Hicks said. “Storm cleanup takes time and you don’t want to get stuck paying for the same job twice because you hired the first person who knocked on your door.”

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Angie’s List helps consumers have happy transactions with local service professionals in more than 550 categories of service, ranging from home improvement to health care. More than 2 million paid households use Angie’s List to gain unlimited access to local ratings, exclusive discounts, the Angie’s List magazine, and the Angie’s List complaint resolution service.

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Cheryl Reed
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