Now that the winter storm has come and gone and left behind it massive damage, it's time for residents to start repairing their homes.
Several videos sent to us from viewers show the grim impact the winter storm caused on all of Texas: roofs caved in from busted pipes, homes flooded due to water seeping in from the walls.
It was all an unexpected nightmare for thousands who didn't see this coming.
In a time where many are at their most vulnerable, there will be people who will try to take advantage of that emotion which is why you need to be on alert of all scams, especially contractor scams.
Scammers are no strangers to traveling far and wide to make their way to people they know are desperate for help. In most situations, they will be the first people to knock on your door.
The Texas Department of Insurance advises you hire local contractors, get written bids and check references to protect what you invest in repairs.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo reminded those seeking help with damage or other resources to be cautions of scammers looking to take advantage vulnerable residents. He reminded everyone to never give out sensitive information, such as your social security number.
"We've been getting a lot of reports of fakes and crooks that are coming around saying that they're here to help you with your pluming or whatever your needs are," Acevedo said. "Please make sure you know who you're dealing with."
More tips to avoid scammers:
- Get more than one bid -- Getting at least three bids will help you decide which offers may be too high or too good to be true. Your insurance adjuster can give you an idea of what the repair should cost. Bids should be on the company’s letterhead with a phone number and an address. Keep a copy of all agreements and warranty terms.
- Watch what you sign -- Read every document carefully before you sign. Scammers will try to get you to sign a contract by calling it an estimate or a release just to go on your roof. And don’t sign a contract with blank spaces. Shady contractors will fill in the spaces later with higher costs or work that’s different from what you wanted.
- Beware of misleading language -- Don’t sign contracts that say, “Homeowner agrees to the listed repairs for the value of insurance proceeds.” If you do, the contractor gets every penny from your insurance payment. Make sure the contract lists the materials they’ll use. Keep an eye out for defective or low-quality materials while work progresses.
- Don't pay upfront -- Be wary if a contractor asks for a large or full down payment. After a disaster, it’s against the law for out-of-town contractors to ask for a down payment before they start.
- Skip offers to waive your deductible -- It’s against the law for a contractor to offer to waive an insurance deductible work the deductible amount into a bid. If this happens, find a new contractor. You can also report it to the Texas Attorney General at 800-621-0508.
"If you can get a plumber to come out from another area who is well-vetted, good history, good reports, legitimate, licensed — take it!" Dan Parsons with the Better Business Bureau of Houston said.
"What you don't want is that knock on the door, 'Hey I'm here to fix your pipes,' that you don't want because they have more work than they could possibly do."
Bottom line is avoid someone selling a quick fix that could lead to an even longer lasting problem.
"The legitimate people have more work than they can possibly do right now," Parsons said. "You're looking for the one where you call them, and you get on a schedule, and they come out depending on the need."
For more information on how to avoid scams or questions on insurance, click here.