BBB CONSUMER TIPS: Use caution when cleaning up after Hurricane Irma | Features

Are you cleaning up damage left behind by Hurricane Irma? Are you deciding who will help with making repairs? Do you worry about who to trust with these important decisions? The Better Business Bureau urges you to take precautions when you are affected by bad weather and the cleanup process afterwards.

Every year natural disasters affect millions of consumers. In those dire times, we often see the generosity of total strangers who reach out to lend a helping hand to those in need. Unfortunately, this is also the perfect opportunity for scam artists to make some quick cash at the consumer’s expense.

If your home, automobile, yard or business is damaged from a tornado, a hurricane, a fire, a flood or an earthquake, do you know what steps to take? Below are some suggestions from BBB:

• Never sign anything you do not understand. If someone is insisting you sign immediately, this is a sign you need to find another contractor. Ask a friend, relative, attorney or a business associate that you trust to take a look at the contract with you.

• Make sure to use a local contractor. It is important that the contractor be qualified in mold remediation and property restoration. A list of local contractors and restorers can be found by checking with the BBB and the Restoration Industry Association. Don’t be shy about asking for references and make sure to check them. Be very suspicious of contractors that contact you out of the blue or who are going door-to-door.

• Try to be patient. When an area has extensive damage, it may take some time for a local contractor to get to you, and this can be frustrating, this is where scam artists can come in and manipulate your frustration or anxiety to hurry up and get the repairs made to their advantage. Do not be pressured into making a snap decision.

• While being patient, also act promptly. All insurance policies require you take action to prevent further damage to your property. You may need to move your personal belongings to a different location, cut off the water supply or have a tarp placed on your roof, (but only if this can be safely done). Become familiar with your insurance policy before a disaster strikes.

• Make sure you receive and keep a copy of any contract and/or warranty.

• Be extremely cautious of anyone who is demanding full payment upfront. It is customary to put down a percentage, but, if you pay in full for services that have not been performed, you may be paying a con artist who will disappear with your money. The BBB recommends paying no more than a third up front and then to have future payments noted in the contract.

• Watch out for cancellation fees, also referred to as liquidation damages. These are fees charged to a homeowner if they decide not to use a contractor after the cancellation period referred to in the contract. If you are unsure what you are reading, ask the contractor to spell it out for you.

• The elderly, people with asthma, breathing problems, allergies or otherwise compromised immune system are at a higher risk of getting a mold infection. Mold must be cleaned up and you must fix the underlying issue that caused it. This is an area where you will want to ensure that your contractor is trained and certified to handle your repairs.

• Also remember if your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC) was flooded, you need to have the system cleaned and checked by a professional before you turn it on.

Disasters are a stressful event. Victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. Start with trust! For reliable information, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and BBB Business Reviews you can trust, visit

Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the Fall Line Corridor, serving 83 counties in East Alabama, West Georgia, Southwest Georgia, Central Georgia, East Georgia and Western South Carolina.

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