How to Spot a Storm Chaser Scam


How to Spot a Storm Chaser Scam

A storm has just swept across your region, pelting homes are cars with golf-ball-sized hailstones. No sooner are you able to leave the house than a man approaches you with a flyer. He says the insurance company called him to start assessing properties and that your roof appears to have been damaged. He’ll go ahead and do a more comprehensive inspection, he says. It’s free. If there’s damage, he’ll show you pictures and schedule to replace your room ASAP.

Only he’s not from the insurance company. He’s a storm chaser, and he’s out to get your money and run.

This scenario is all too familiar. Storm chasers, also called hail chasers or roofing gypsies, travel to regions affected by hail and wind damage to repair and replace damaged roofs. Many provide quality service in areas in desperate need of additional workers after severe weather. But the industry is also wrought with scam artists who take advantage of homeowners desperate to fix their homes and get on with their lives.

Storm chasers make their living by traveling to areas the Weather Bureau says have hail damage. They often show up unannounced after bad weather, scatter literature across neighborhoods, and offer free inspections to get their crews on the roof.

When hired, the scammers among these traveling repairmen will do the bare minimum required and won’t restore the roof to its original condition. They produce a poorly constructed roof that might only last only a couple of years.

Besides a badly constructed roof, these workers might also go directly after your pocket book. They’ve been known to target neighborhoods where roofs are already 20 years old or older and show signs of wear. They will claim the wear comes from storm damage and pressure the occupants to pay for a new roof, saying the insurance company will cover it, whether or not this is true.

Whatever way the scam works out, the end result isn’t good. The company vanishes, and you, the homeowner, are still left with a bad roof.

Identify a Shady Storm Chaser

Again, while not all storm chasers are scammers, there are plenty who are. If your neighborhood has encountered storm damage, we suggest keeping your cool and choosing a local company that’s held accountable for its reputable service. However, roofers can grow very busy after a severe storm, so they might be difficult to hire in a pinch, and storm chasers will at times conduct business using a local contractor’s name (they provide the contractor a kickback for this privilege). It’s therefore helpful to know what to look for when roofers knock on your door to offer their services.

When storms have rolled across your region, watch out for the following:

  • Free inspections. Professional roofers sometimes charge for this service, but not all do. Beware: storm chasers have been caught damaging roofs in order to provide homeowners “evidence” that hail or wind damaged their house.
  • People who say your insurance company sent them. The insurance company did not send them. Your insurance company will tell you before they send someone to your house. If you’re unsure whether they’re telling the truth, call your insurance agent to inquire.
  • People who call on the phone and claim to represent your insurance company. Do not pass out your personal information. Your insurance company already has it on file.
  • Requests for advance payment. It’s reasonable for roofers to request a small, initial deposit or a deposit of your ACV (actual cash value) check. However, the bulk of the payment should come after the roofer has finished the job.
  • Claims that FEMA endorses them. FEMA does not endorse contractors.
  • High pressure sales tactics.
  • They pass out pamphlets, cards, and flyers throughout your neighborhood.
  • They offer a free roof or free deductible. Do not go along with this. This is insurance fraud.

Things You Can Do to Protect Yourself from Roofing Scams

Besides watching for red flags, there are things you can do to protect yourself from disreputable storm chasers.

Use Local Contractors

The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to use a local roofing company you already know and trust. If you are unfamiliar with roofing companies in your area, ask your coworkers, neighbors, and friends to refer one to you. Unlike wandering roofers, local roofing companies are held accountable for their work. They require a good reputation to stay in business, so they’re less likely to produce shoddy workmanship.

If local contractors are too busy to get to your roof right away, do what you can to cover up the damage. Be patient.

As mentioned, storm chasers sometimes disguise themselves as local companies. They’ll go so far as to set up a temporary office and phone number, even, in order to look legitimate. Ask to see their driver’s license and look at the license plate on their vehicles before accepting their claims.

Contact Your Insurance Company

If you cannot find a good roofer to hire, contact your insurance company and file a claim before signing a contract. The company will send an adjustor, who will inspect your roof for damage and provide you an estimate for how much the insurance company will cover. This will also help you when comparing estimates from roofers, and it will ensure you’ll be reimbursed for a new roof. Remember to find out how your specific insurance company will reimburse you for the damage. Furthermore, your insurance company can refer you to reputable contractors if you’re unsure who to hire.

Ask to See IDs, Paperwork, and Certifications

Law requires that businesses hold certain kinds of insurance and licenses. Professional contractors also will hold certifications from the manufacturers for which they carry products. When you encounter roofing contractors after a storm, ask to see:

  • A manufacturer’s certification. While a manufacturer’s certification isn’t required, it can help you distinguish a true professional.
  • Contractor license. This is not applicable everywhere. Indiana does not require that roofers hold a contractor license.
  • Local operating permit.
  • Insurance certificates. You’ll want to see proof of property insurance, liability insurance, and workman’s comp insurance.

Look Online

The internet is a great resource to discover roofers you can trust. If a roofer approaches you after a storm, go online and look for their business. Specifically, consider any reviews they might have (or if they have any at all), and look at their website. Also check them out with the BBB and the Home Builder’s Association.

Get Estimates

During a crisis, it’s common for storm chasers to gouge prices. To avoid getting ripped off with high prices, make sure you receive estimates from at least two contractors. By comparing their estimates, you should be able to tell whether you’re receiving a fair quote.

Maintain Records

Get a copy of the estimate in writing. Also, before letting the roofing contractor onto your house, get everything in writing. Make sure you have records for the scope of the work, timeline guarantees, and the payment schedule. Before signing, mark through any blank lines. Also keep receipts.

E3 Roofing and Remodeling is a local company you can trust. We’ll help identify damage to your roof and negotiate with your insurance company on your behalf to make sure your claim is best satisfied. Call or contact us for inquiries.