Avoiding Post-Disaster Homeowner Insurance Scams
You were smart. You carefully shopped for homeowners insurance quotes and, after comparing quotes, you made your decision based on factors other than price alone. You insured your home for every conceivable disaster your area is prone to. You didn’t try to save a few bucks buying coverage based on real estate value. Instead, you bought enough to compensate for rebuilding your home and replacing your valuables. Congrats! You did everything right. Don’t blow by falling prey to post-disaster scam artists. Arm yourself with knowledge to keep from being a scammer’s next victim.
If your home is damaged or destroyed by a fire, flood, tornado or hurricane, your human instinct is to do whatever it takes to get things back to normal. Scam artists know that and their goal is to take advantage of you at a time when you’re disoriented and vulnerable. The best thing you can do is put on the brakes, take a deep breath and avoid making hasty decisions. Before you talk to anybody else, call your insurance agent. He or she will be in the best position to explain your benefits and guide you in taking the correct steps to file a claim and expedite settlement. Your agent may even be able to direct you to reputable service providers in your area.
Do not sign on with the first contractor you talk to, especially if he contacted you unsolicited. Get business cards and references from several contractors. Contact the references and check with your local Better Business Bureau, too. When you’ve narrowed it down to three candidates, get written estimates. And never ever give anyone a deposit until you’ve done a thorough background check and have the estimate in writing.
Watch out for anybody who urges you to spend a lot on stop-gap repairs. That’s going to come out of your total homeowners insurance settlement and you may come up short when it’s time to make permanent repairs. Ask your insurance agent if you can make temporary repairs yourself (you don’t want to do anything that would void your claim). Don’t forget to keep your receipts for materials.
Be very wary of hiring a third party public adjuster or ambulance-chasing attorney, especially somebody who contacts you unsolicited after a disaster. They’ll try to frighten you into signing a contract that could chew up a hefty chunk of your homeowners insurance settlement. Do not sign anything. Remember, your insurance company will provide an adjuster free of charge. Taking advantage of this service does not forfeit your right to hire a third party at a later date. If you do decide to go that route, contact your state insurance department to check the credential of a public adjuster. Your state bar association can provide information about attorneys.