‘Storm Chaser’ Scammers Are Targeting Natural Disaster Victims

Beware of storm chaser scammers who turn up after a natural disaster and attempt to take advantage of those impacted, the BBB says.

Senior woman holding business card and looking warily at tradesman.
(Image credit: Sturti, Getty Images)

Natural disasters such as the severe winter storms that have been rolling through the U.S. lately may bring neighbors together to help one another but, as the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns, these events may also bring out scammers — in the form of “storm chasers” and unscrupulous out-of-town contractors offering to help.

While some of the contractors that show up in your neighborhood may be legit, others may lack proper licensing to do work in your area, offer quick fixes or make big promises that they can't deliver, BBB said. These scammers are simply trying to take advantage of the sudden surge in demand for services.

The BBB said there are things you should do when hiring any contractor, including making sure you get three estimates for the work, put everything in writing and paying with a credit card.

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Protecting yourself from storm chasers

The BBB provides the following tips to help protect yourself from storm chasers:

  • Talk to your insurance company: Ask about your natural disasters coverage and any requirements for filing a claim as well as whether you have coverage related to temporary lodging if your home is no longer livable. Also, ask if the insurer has recommendations for contractors for any work or cleanup that may be required. 
  • Do your research: If you need to find a contractor, look for a businesses that you can trust using BBB’s search tool. Check with the state or local government agency responsible for registering and providing licenses to contractors in your area. Also, talk with friends and family to see if they have any recommendations.
  • Resist high-pressure sales tactics: Whether they show up at your door or call you on the phone, storm chasers will sometimes tout their “good deals” that you will only get if you hire them immediately.
  • Be wary of door-to-door contractors: Many municipalities require solicitation permits for door-to-door sales, so if a contractor shows up at your door, ask for identification. You should also check their vehicle for a business name, phone number and license plate for your state.
  • Do not sign over insurance checks: Rather than signing over an insurance check, have the contractor send you an invoice and pay them directly, ideally with a credit card since these offer additional fraud protection over other forms of payment. Never sign any forms that give the contractor the rights to your insurance claims. Contact your insurance company directly with any questions or concerns.
  • Don’t let contractors go where you can’t see them: While most contractors follow the law, an unethical one may create damage just to get work. Given that, you should not allow anyone you do not know to inspect your roof, attic, crawl space, ducts or any other area of your house where you cannot watch them or see for yourself.

How to find a contractor

Whether you need help after a natural disaster or are simply looking to remodel your home, there are several ways to vet a contractor. These include taking stock of the contractor's credentials and experience, talking to references and checking if they have liability and workers' compensation insurance.

The BBB also provides a how to find a reliable and trustworthy contractor resource page with links to other helpful sites.

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Joey Solitro

Joey Solitro is a freelance financial journalist at Kiplinger with more than a decade of experience. A longtime equity analyst, Joey has covered a range of industries for media outlets including The Motley Fool, Seeking Alpha, Market Realist, and TipRanks. Joey holds a bachelor's degree in business administration.