Following the strong storms and flooding in the Midstate over the weekend, Acting Insurance Commissioner Michael Humphreys provided information to home and business owners on how they can avoid costly repair scams. The Commissioner also provided best practice tips on filing insurance claims for damages.
“Pennsylvanians who experienced home, property and business damages from the storms this weekend should take care when dealing with door-to-door solicitors, because unfortunately, cleanup from disasters often draws dishonest and fraudulent contractors,” said Humphreys. “As early as the morning after Saturday evening’s storms, we were already receiving reports of brochures being hung on residents’ doors, or put in their mailboxes, offering ‘Free Storm Inspections’ and insurance claims process assistance from roofing and contracting companies. Consumers should be aware of red flags when dealing with contractors for home repairs and be diligent when making a report to their insurer.”
The Pennsylvania Insurance Department’s (PID) After the Storm brochure provides several tips for consumers on how to avoid home repair scams, including:
- Ask for and check references before hiring a contractor. Get everything in writing, including the total cost for repairs, the work to be completed, the timetable for completion, and contractor guarantees.
- Home improvement contractors that do more than $5,000 of business per year in Pennsylvania must register with the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Ask the contractor for their Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) number and verify registration by calling the Attorney General’s Home Improvement Registration toll-free line at 1-888-520-6680.
- Check with the Better Business Bureau to ensure that it is a trustworthy business.
- Don’t sign paperwork with sections left blank for someone to fill-in later, and don’t pay a contractor in full or sign that the work is complete until the work is completed.
- Be wary of contractors with work vans or trucks that have out-of-state license plates or lack signs or insignias identifying the company name.
- Ask for identification from anyone presenting themselves as a public adjuster. Public adjusters are professional claims handlers, licensed and regulated by the Insurance Department, who can assist policyholders with the claims process. Individuals can verify someone is licensed as a public adjuster on the department’s website, Find Insurance Professional.
Property and business owners should get familiar with their policies or talk with a representative from their insurance company to identify what their policy covers and doesn’t cover. Policy holders should also find out what their policy deductible is, and any dollar limits on the amount of damage the policy will cover. Flood damage is not covered by most homeowners’ insurance policies, and a separate flood insurance policy is required to pay for damage caused by flooding.
The After the Storm brochure also includes tips for filing claims with an insurance company, such as:
- Contact the insurance company as soon as possible after the storm
- Save all receipts
- Take photographs or video before cleaning or making repairs
- After documenting damage, make repairs needed to prevent further damage or to live in the home, but don’t make permanent repairs before insurance company inspects the damage and approves the repairs.
- If possible, determine what it will cost to repair the property before meeting with an insurance company representative who will assess the damage. If there is a disagreement on the offer made to repair the property, individuals should be prepared to negotiate.
“Cleanup after storm damage is hard enough – Pennsylvanians should not have to deal with dishonest actors defrauding them when they are vulnerable,” said Humphreys. “Following these tips can help lessen the chances of being scammed and ensure that the claims process with the insurance company goes as smoothly as possible.”
Consumers with questions or wishing to file a complaint can contact the Insurance Department’s Consumer Services Bureau, or by calling 1-877-881-6388. The department also has a dedicated Flood Insurance page for Pennsylvanians looking for additional information.