Personal Finance

Spring storm season is here: How to avoid weather-related scams

Every time spring storms roll through, fly-by-night contractors follow, taking money and not doing the job they promised.

Spring storm season is here: How to avoid weather-related scams
Alonzo Adams/AP

Spring brings extra sunshine and warmer weather but also a higher risk of tornadoes, rain, wind and flooding in much of the country.

Those severe weather events often lead to roof damage, downed trees and flooding.

All those events tend to bring in scammers. 

So if you find yourself dealing with weather damage this spring, it's important to know how they operate, and how to avoid them.

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Contractors travel the country looking for work

Across the country in just the first few months of 2023, we've already seen Mother Nature at work, from tornadoes in the central and southern U.S. to damaging floods in California.

After every big storm, contractor Joel Poulin of Ray St. Clair Roofing hears from homeowners desperate for repairs. But before you hire the first person who says they can fix the damage, Poulin has a warning.

"Hire local," he said, even if you will have to wait a bit longer. "Find a contractor who is local that you or your neighbors know, who maybe has a brick-and-mortar building where you can visit them."

Melanie McGovern with the Better Business Bureau says beware of so-called "storm chasers."

"You definitely want to be very wary of that knock on the door when people might say, 'Oh I was driving by and I saw your chimney needs repair or I can get that tree stump out of your yard,'" she said.

Sometimes they say they were working on a neighbor's home. Find out who, and then visit that neighbor to see if they are telling the truth.

Not all storm chasers are scammers, but the BBB says even if they can do the job, they may lack proper licensing or make big promises they can't deliver.

The Federal Trade Commission also warns of scammers pretending to be safety inspectors or government officials.

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Warning signs of a possible scam

The FTC says walk away if:

- They demand cash payments upfront before starting any work.

- They are vague on where they are from, or the official name of their business (so you can't look them up).

- They refuse to give you copies of their license or insurance information. They should be licensed and bonded, so that they can't sue you if they are injured.

Poulin says with any contractor, don't feel pressured to make a decision on the spot.

Instead, he says, make sure it is someone who will be around to help in the future, and not someone who heads off to another state.

"If you have issues down the road, he is not going to be there to take care of it," Poulin said.