Homeowners and businesses cleaning up from strong storms that produced two tornados Sunday night, including an EF3 that tore through the Naperville area, should be on alert for scammers, according to Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.
“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 in a statement. “People should be wary of any individual who solicits home repair or insurance adjusting services door-to-door.”
Scammers often move quickly into communities to take advantage of people whose homes and businesses have been damaged, according to Raoul, who said these “storm chasers” pressure people into making quick and often expensive decisions about cleanup and construction work.
Even if you need to act quickly, shop around, get written estimates from multiple contractors and don’t be rushed into a deal, he said. In addition, be sure to get the terms of a contract in writing and get a signed copy of that contract.
If you sign a contract based on a contractor’s visit to your home, you have the right to cancel the contract within three business days, according to the attorney general. In the case of a disaster repair, if your insurance carrier denies coverage, you have the right to cancel a contract within five days of your insurance carrier’s denial.
Be wary of contractors who go door-to-door offering repair services or “free” inspections, according to the attorney general, who advises people to ask for recommendations from those they trust, and whenever possible to use local, established contractors.
General contractors are not required by state law to be licensed, according to Raoul, but municipalities may require permits or have other requirements. Before hiring anyone, check with your local government for information about permits and any other requirements.
Individuals can call the attorney general’s consumer fraud hotline at 800-386-5438 (Chicago), 800-243-0618 (Springfield) and 800-243-0607 (Carbondale) to check out a contractor. Visit the Better Business Bureau’s Chicago website to see if a business is a member and whether any complaints have been lodged against it.
Don’t make a full payment until all the work has been completed to your satisfaction, according to Raoul, who urged residents to never pay in cash.
Public adjusters must be licensed by the Illinois Department of Insurance, and roofers must be licensed by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Check with the IDFPR’s list of licensed roofing contractors in Illinois to verify they’re licensed.
Before hiring someone, ask to see their required state and local permits and licenses. If a roofer or adjuster doesn’t have a required license, or if the name on the license doesn’t match the name on the business card or truck, that should raise a red flag. You can search for roofing licenses online, as well as verify that a public adjuster is licensed and in good standing. You can also call (866) 445-5364 to verify information about public adjusters.
Public adjusters don’t work for your insurance company and may charge additional fees, according to the attorney general’s office. If you submit a claim to your insurance company, your insurance company will likely provide an adjuster to review your claim at no additional cost.
If you contract with a public adjuster, pay attention to the amount of fees being charged and whether you must use a specific contractor for repairs, according to Raoul.