Special to The Dallas Examiner
As communities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area experience flash flooding after weeks of dry conditions, property and automobile damage is likely to occur. Unfortunately, scammers following in the wake of natural disasters, known as “storm chasers,” make the recovery process even more challenging.
These scammers look to capitalize on home and business owners who, in their desperation for immediate repairs, may not exercise as much caution when contracting the services of a repair company. Additionally, unethical tow companies and businesses engaged in price gouging compound the financial risks when recovering from storm damage.
Although not all storm chasers are scammers, they may lack the proper licensing for your area, offer quick fixes, or make big promises they can’t deliver. Often found soliciting services door to door, they make offers but disappear after accepting payment. Avoid hiring any contractor who uses high-pressure sales tactics, such as “today only” offers, or demands full payment up front. While businesses cannot be accused of price gouging until a disaster has been declared by the Texas governor or the U.S. president, unethical businesses may begin to raise prices for necessary products well in advance of an official declaration.
Due to the extent and variety of damages flooding can inflict across a large area, recovery efforts are often lengthy and complicated. Downed powerlines, road debris, flood damage and infrastructure instability are all major obstacles that can contribute to prolonged recovery timelines. State and national disaster recovery organizations, such as FEMA, can significantly contribute to a recovering community. However, it may take weeks for the organizations to reach an affected area, depending on the extent of damages and road conditions.
In the aftermath of flash flooding in North Texas, BBB offers the following advice to begin the recovery effort and avoid disaster-related scams:
- Find out if you’re covered. Basic homeowners’ insurance policies often do not include damages incurred from flooding. Basic water damages that most homeowners’ insurance covers is focused on sudden and accidental situations, such as a busted water pipe. Call your insurance company immediately to report the damage and discuss how to proceed with repairs and ask if your policy includes flood protection. Make sure you understand how your insurance company will reimburse your repair costs. Take photos or video of damage inside and outside of your house, as well as in your immediate area.
- Do your research. After an insurance adjuster has surveyed your flood damage, you will need to find a reputable company to make repairs. Check with BBB.org to find a trustworthy business, such as roofing contractors, automobile repair or construction services.
- Get several bids. Don’t pay large fees up front or pay in cash. BBB recommends consumers solicit bids from at least three different companies. All bids should be in writing and should provide a full description of the services to be provided. If approached by someone offering a “free” roof inspection, proceed with caution as it may be a scam.
- Ask for a timeline. Find out how long the repair will take. If damage was heavy in your area, it may take longer to schedule the repairs. Be sure to check with government organizations to see if you can qualify for assistance, especially if damage to your residence was so extensive it is not safe to live in without repairs.
- Get everything in writing. Be sure all work is explained in the contract, including cleanup, waste disposal, start and completion dates. Any verbal agreements made should be included in the contract.
- Check the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation when contracting the services of a tow company. A towing company should be certified through the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. The TDLR makes sure tow truck companies adhere to safety standards to keep you and their drivers safe. A good towing company will be fully certified and have a clean record with the state.
- Cleanup safely. When flood waters recede and cleanup efforts begin, exercise caution when walking or working around damaged areas. Mold can begin growing on wet or damp material within 24 hours. It is often encouraged to throw away any absorbent material that cannot be completely dried out. Flood waters can collect a large variety of chemicals and substances, from household cleaners to bacteria and diseases. In order to protect yourself from germs in the water, mold on surfaces and the chemicals in cleaning supplies, cover your body. Wear pants, long sleeves, boots and rubber gloves. Visit CDC.gov for guidance on how to clean up safely after a natural disaster.
Anyone who suspects price gouging during a declared state of emergency should report it to Better Business Bureau by filing a complaint or go to BBB Ad Truth. Consumers have an option to report these activities to the Texas Attorney General. When reporting a price gouging complaint, gather as much information as safely possible and follow these three tips:
- Be as specific about the transaction as possible, including the name and address of the business, names of any employees involved, and information detailing the spike in pricing.
- Gather documentation supporting the price gouging (receipts, photos of products and their advertised pricing, invoices, etc.)
- Compare pricing of similar products with other sellers in the area as well as online. It’s important to note similarities and differences between brands, size/quantity, manufacturers, model numbers, and prices.
Learn more about how to identify and protect yourself from storm chasers and other disaster-related scams at BBB.org/Storm.