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Beware of scams when picking repair contractors

POSTED: September 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.

As sure as there are tornadoes and other storms, there likely will be scam artists attempting to take advantage of the situation.

That was the warning Thursday from State Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.

"We encourage people to use repair workers that are local, and be cautious of people who come in from out of state," Oxendine said. "When you have something like a tornado, people read about it elsewhere and will flock to try to find employment opportunities."

Oxendine said homeowners should not pay cash for services and should either write a check or use a credit card.

"If someone says ‘Don’t worry about the cost. I can get the insurance company to pay for it,’ you should check with your insurance agent or adjuster first," he said.

Joe T. Wood Jr. of Turner, Wood and Smith insurance agency in Gainesville said his firm is just recovering from the huge number of claims that arose from the March 15 storm that struck North Georgia.

"In the last six months, we’ve had tremendous claims for roofs from hail damage that we got on March 15, plus some wind damage in the past few days," Wood said.

He warned less-than-reputable repair persons will attempt to encourage starting repairs before an insurance adjuster inspects the damage.

"You shouldn’t do anything in terms of repairs until an adjuster comes out," Wood said.

He said it is important to protect the damaged structure to prevent further exposure to the elements, but a professional adjuster from the insurance company can determine the cost and extent of repairs.

Oxendine’s office suggests taking photographs or making a video of the damage before cleaning up or making repairs.

The insurance commissioner said not to have permanent repairs made until your insurance company has inspected the property and you have reached an agreement on the cost of repairs. Clients should be prepared to provide the claims adjuster with records of any improvements made prior to the damage. He also encourages saving all receipts, including those from the temporary repairs.

Oxendine also suggests getting bids from more than one contractor and requesting at least three references. Also, ask for proof of necessary licenses, building permits, insurance and bonding. Record the contractor’s license plate number and driver’s license number, and then check for any complaints with the Better Business Bureau.

Oxendine said to be wary of contractors who demand payment up front for repairs. If the contractor needs money to buy supplies, go with the contractor and pay the supplier directly.

Wood said that most homeowners policies will cover the cost of removing a tree that falls onto a house and the resulting damage, but will not pay for removal of a tree that does not damage a structure and simply falls into the yard.

Oxendine said that any insured customer having problems with an insurance claim can contact his office for help at 404-656-2070.



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