Attorney General warns of \"storm chasers\" scam

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COLUMBIA - Attorney General Chris Koster is warning Missourians dealing with flood and storm damage to avoid clean-up scams.

Koster sent a news release Friday saying storm damage victims should be on the alert for possible "storm chasers." He said scammers go door-to-door offering to provide repair or clean-up services. The storm-chasers tend to ask for an up-front payment, then leave the area before completing or even starting the job.

Koster said the scammers use "high pressure sales tactics," usually request cash up front and may ask the homeowner to sign a contract allowing their company to negotiate with the home owner's insurance company directly.

Mike Harrison, the Mid-Missouri Regional Director for the Better Business Bureau, said the hard sell is a tool for door-to-door scammers. 

He said some phrases should be a tip off, such as "This deal is good for today only," or "low, low prices".

If they "say they're working in the neighborhood and have materials left over from another job, things along those lines," Harrison said, be careful.

Koster said storm chasers tend to have out-of-state divers licenses and plates and often cannot provide homeowners with local references or prove they have the required license or bonds. 

The attorney general offered the following tips to avoid being a victim to storm-chasers or scam contractors:

  • Do not pay for work up-front. Some projects may require a down-payment, but don't pay anything until you have a written contract. Also, always use a credit or debit card and avoid cash.
  • Beware any contractor who comes to your house to solicit work or tries to rush you. If an offer is "only good for now," find another contractor.
  • Contact your insurance company. Some insurance companies require an adjuster's approval before work can be done.
  • Seek recommendations from friends, family members, co-workers, etc. ?Only hire a contractor after you have checked their references.
  • Get three written estimates, if possible, to compare bids. If you're looking for a company's credentials, contact the attorney general's office or the Better Business Bureau to learn about a contractor's complaints.

Harrison said to go by what he called "the rule of thirds" when paying: put down a third of the cost up front, then another third of the total cost partway through the project, then the final third of the payment should be made only after the project is completed and the consumer is satisfied.

"Basically, that's an incentive for that company to finish the work and do a good job," Harrison said.

Koster said people who may have been victimized by scam contractors, can file a complaint here or contact the attorney general's Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-332-8222.