We are thinking of you as you prepare to face the challenges posed by Hurricane Ian. We hope that you and your families stay safe, and our hearts and thoughts go out to the communities that were in the path of this storm. We want you to know that we are standing with you now and as the recovery efforts begin.
As we begin to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Ian, we wanted to provide you with some useful tips on filing a claim and alert you of the dangers that often occur following a catastrophic event. Please see the information below about the dangers of insurance fraud.
In the aftermath of a natural disaster, outsiders and other organizations often come to the affected areas and provide vital assistance in the form of insurance adjusters, emergency/medical personnel, and other needed services. Unfortunately, not all of these people and organizations have good intentions.
After a natural disaster, unethical vendors or public adjusters may approach you with schemes promising to put you in a better position than you were before the catastrophe. These schemes usually involve kickbacks to the vendor or adjuster. You may also see a contractor or vendor ask you for a large down payment to begin work and repairs, and after they collect your money, you won’t ever see them again.
It is important to be aware of these situations and know what to do if you encounter them.
How to Avoid Fraud After a Catastrophe
- Check with insurer or us, your insurance agent, for credible remediation companies, contractors, or vendors.
- Beware of high-pressure salespeople. Don’t be rushed into signing a contract. Take the time to obtain written estimates from more than one vendor.
- Know whom you are dealing with. Obtain references, check with the Better Business Bureau, review licenses, and ensure the vendor you select is properly insured. Be wary of anyone who approaches you unsolicited or says they can perform your repairs at a discount with leftover supplies from another job.
- Get at least 3 written, itemized estimates or bids on repairs.
- Don’t make large down payments. Although down payments are customary, some unethical vendors disappear after receiving the down payment or performing limited work.
- Check for proof of insurance and verify with their insurer that their policy is current.
- Check to see if the contractor is bonded and verify with the bonding agency.
- Do not sign a certificate of completion or make a final payment until you are satisfied with the work performed.
We hope it doesn’t occur, but in the event that you believe someone is committing a disaster fraud scheme or if you fall victim to one, you should contact the NCDF (National Center for Disaster Fraud) immediately. The NCDF task force was created post-Hurricane Katrina and is made up of over 20 federal agencies, U.S. attorneys, and law enforcement officers, who serve as advocates for those affected by fraud.
Call the Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or visit online at: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-disasters/how-report-disaster-related-fraud
Tips for Filing an Insurance Claim
Send photos of the damage, including photos before damage if possible, to the adjuster. Include photos of:
- The outside of the premises showing the flooding and the damage to the building
- The water lines of the exterior and interior of the building using a tape measure showing the height of the water in and around your building.
- Create a list of damaged property, including description, cost, and receipt if possible.
- Keep a journal of your emails, calls detailing time and date with insurance companies and adjusters so you can proactively manage the process.
- Ask your insurer or us for preferred vendors before signing with an unknown contractor.
- Have your policy information when you call insurer, including insurer, policy number, and mortgage.
- Keep damaged property for the adjuster to review – some policies, such as flood insurance, require that the insured retain damaged property for an inspection. While you may wish to remove the soggy carpeting so mold doesn’t develop, DO NOT DISCARD any items until the adjuster can to view, document, and verify the flood damage to each item. Make a list of damaged or lost items and include their date of purchase, value, and receipts, if possible.
- Read the contract before signing with any firm who is going to do work on your home. Ensure it does not include assignment of benefits, which allows a third party, such as a water extraction company, a roofer, or plumber to “stand in the shoes” of the insured and seek payment from the insurer. The payment they seek is often inflated and work performed is often subpar.
- Get three written estimates, if possible, and compare bids. Check credentials and contact the Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau to learn about any complaints against the contractor. Ask to get the contractor’s certificate of insurance directly from their insurance company, not from the contractor. Before work begins, get a written contract detailing all work to be performed, costs, and a projected completion date.
- For car repairs, shop around and compare written estimates. On major jobs, get a second opinion.
After a Hurricane
- Do what you can to prevent further damage to your property, (e.g., putting a tarp on a damaged roof), if you can do so safely as insurance may not cover additional damage that occurs after the storm.
- Watch out for debris and downed power lines. Avoid walking or driving through flood waters. Just 6 inches of moving water can knock you down, and one foot of fast-moving water can sweep your vehicle away. Water is often contaminated with sewage and chemicals and can hide objects, such as metal and glass, or dangerous animals, such as snakes or alligators. Do not attempt to move or cut down any trees post-storm as many electrical lines and pipes are buried.
- Inspect for any visible structural damage, such as warping, loosened, or cracked foundation elements, cracks, and holes before entering the home.
- Wear proper protective personal equipment: rubber boots, gloves, and eye protection.
- Ensure the gas, water, and electric are turned off, especially if there is water in the house and you are walking in the area. Turn off the main and all individual fuse connections in the fuse box in case power is reactivated.
- Begin remediation and dry area as soon as possible. Ask insurer for preferred vendors. Refer to FEMA’s official structural drying guidelines or you may be stuck with a large out-of-pocket bill from a restoration firm.
- Run the air conditioner to dehumidify your home. Remove any wet items and store them in the garage, if possible.
- If works of art are wet, gently blot off excess moisture with towels or blotting paper. Carefully remove wet backings, mats, and frames.
- Don’t pay for work upfront. Inspect the work and make sure you’re satisfied before you pay. A small down payment may be required, but don’t pay anything without a written contract. Avoid paying with cash; use a check or a credit card.
- Beware of any contractor who tries to rush you or comes to your home to solicit work. If an offer is only good now or never, find someone else to do the work. Seek recommendations from friends, neighbors, co-workers, and others who have had work done on their homes.
- Avoid scammers, impersonation scams can happen in many ways, including by telephone, emails, text, and in person.
- Beware of anyone who knocks on your door offering to fix storm damage, especially if they want money upfront.
- If someone contacts you and asks for your personal information, be suspicious, no matter who they claim to be or why they say they need the information.
- Beware of those claiming to be FEMA endorsed: FEMA does not certify or approve contractors.
- If someone comes to your door claiming to be from the government, the power company, or your insurance company, ask to see their official photo ID. Do not be fooled by hats, clothing, or vehicles with logos.
We are here for you during this difficult time. Please let us know if you have any questions. For additional Hurricane Preparedness Resources visit https://bks-partners.com/hurricane/.