Beware of the repair people who come to your door offering to repair your roof or replace your windshield. Don’t ever pay for repairs upfront and don’t sign an AOB (Assignment of Benefits) form to get repair work started.
These are some of the tips from consumer protection advocates, who are warning that insurance and repair scam artists will likely be out in force in the aftermath of Irma.
Damage from Hurricane Irma could create new opportunities for unscrupulous home repair vendors and trial attorneys seeking to profit off the disaster by asking homeowners to sign an AOB to start repair work. In doing so, the homeowners lose control of their insurance policy — which can result in vendors inflating the cost of claims and file lawsuits against insurance companies that dispute the amount. A sharp rise in AOB cases has been blamed for recent hikes in homeowner insurance rates.
“Unfortunately, hurricanes often attract scam artists seeking to profit off people in times of crisis,’’ said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which spearheads the Consumer Protection Coalition. “Consumers who sustain damage during the storm should call their insurance company first before signing over the rights of their insurance policy to someone else.’’
Consumers do not need to sign an AOB to initiate storm-related repairs and should be cautious of vendors who pressure them or refuse to do the work unless they sign one.
Automobile owners should be on high alert for auto glass harvesters going door-to-door offering vehicle owners new windshields — even ones without damage — before an insurer has the ability to inspect it.
An InsuranceQuotes.com report listed three additional scams to watch out for:
▪ Paying for repairs upfront. This scam often starts with a “contractor” saying he needs a large percentage of the payment in advance to cover the costs of supplies and equipment. You may never see him again, or the work could be substandard.
Get a written contract detailing the work that will be done, the materials to be used and the prices for labor and materials. If you must pay some of the money before the work is done, try to keep it to no more than 10 percent of the total job.
Get at least three bids for each major job. And always beware of anyone who knocks on your door after a storm offering services.
▪ Victim funding scams. All it takes is a Facebook page with a “charity” link to a scam website to turn your good deed into a fraudulent foray, InsuranceQuotes.com said in its report. If you would like to make a donation, verify the information on the charity’s website directly by typing in the charity’s name in a browser instead of a link provided in an email. Also, phishing emails can show up in your inbox asking for donations. Don’t click on any links in emails or text messages you get from someone you don’t know.
▪ Robocalls wanting storm victims to pay up. The robocalls tell victims that their insurance premiums are late and if they don’t send money immediately, their homeowners and flood insurance will be canceled. “That is pure fraud. You should only be taking information from trusted sources,” Roy E. Wright, director of the National Flood Insurance Program at the Federal Emergency Management Agency told The Washington Post. Always contact your insurance agent directly regarding premium payments.
The Consumer Protection Coalition adds these tips:
▪ Call your insurance company first to report losses.
▪ Hire only licensed, reputable companies and be wary of strangers who call or knock on your door asking for personal information.
▪ Review all documents before signing, and ask questions so you know exactly what you are signing. Ask who is responsible for paying the vendor — you (the consumer) or your insurance company.
▪ If you suspect fraud or suspicious activity, call the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Consumer Services Insurance Consumer Helpline at 877-693-5236.
Nancy Dahlberg: @ndahlberg