Don’t get soaked by storm chasers and shady contractors looking to make fast money buck after a natural disaster.

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I’ve always been leery of contractors who show up the day of (or shortly after) a natural disaster. When a 100-foot tall tree split in half and toppled onto both sides of my yard during a storm a few years ago, a tree removal contractor who lived down the street was there within the hour.

“I can get rid of all of this today for $1,000,” he assured me. I told the guy that I wanted to check with the city first because I’d heard that it was responsible for tree and trunk removal if the tree roots were within nine feet of the street.

“They don’t do that,” he told me. “That’s the homeowner’s responsibility. And if they do remove it, you’ll be waiting for months.”

Fortunately, I was already guarded with this guy, since I regularly heard him insulting and belittling his wife during outdoor barbecues while I walked my dog past his house. So, even if I had considered his rate reasonable, I’d have passed. Plus, my intuition told me he was lying.

It turns out the city did remove the tree and all the limbs, along with grinding down the trunk — at no cost. Even better, the contractors they used completed the entire job within one week.

My tree clean-up wasn’t due to a tornado, hurricane, flood or other natural disaster. But I can only imagine the slew of shady contractors out there who are eager to make a buck off people’s desperation to get back into their homes after a major natural disaster.

Now that tornadoes, hurricanes and floods are in full force in various parts of the country, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning consumers to watch out for scammers posing as contractors who can solve their storm-damage problems.

“Beware of ‘storm chasers’ and out-of-town contractors soliciting business,” warns the BBB. “Although not all storm chasers are scammers, they may lack the proper licensing for your area, offer quick fixes or make big promises they can’t deliver.”

Even if you’re not currently looking at major storm damage to your home and/or other property, you’re wise to read up on the red flags of scammer contractors. Here’s what to look out for and how to avoid becoming a victim, according to the BBB.

Door-to-door contractors

There are plenty of reputable door-to-door contractors, but the very nature of this sales method can bring out some shady characters. Don’t let eagerness to get repairs done get in the way of good sense. Ask to see any contractor’s or salesperson’s credentials right off the bat.

“Many municipalities require a solicitation permit if sales people go door-to-door. Ask for identification,” advises the BBB. “Check their vehicle for a business name, phone number, and license plates for your state or province.”

Find out: Americans Fear Natural Disasters will Cost More Due to Inflation

High-pressure sales tactics

Storm-chasing scammers like to tell potential victims that the “great deal” they’re offering is only good if you hire them on the spot. If someone tries that or a similar high-pressure sales tactic, tell them to take that toolbelt and all their big promises elsewhere.

“Be proactive in selecting a contractor and not reactive to sales calls on the phone or door-to-door pitches,” advises the BBB. “Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor.”

“Inspectors” that create their own damage

Of course, a contractor must inspect your roof or other damaged areas of your house before offering an estimate for repairs. Still, keep in mind that there are unethical contractors who ask to inspect out-of-your-sight areas, only to create their own “damage” so you’ll hire them to make repairs, says the BBB.

Out-of-sight areas to proceed with caution include roofs, attics, crawl spaces, ducts and other places that you can’t easily access or see for yourself, says the BBB.

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Contractors asking for rights to your insurance claims

Get an invoice from the contractor you use and pay them directly, preferably with a credit card, which offers better fraud protection than other payment methods.

“Don’t sign any documents that give the contractor any rights to your insurance claims,” warns the BBB. “If you have questions, contact your insurance company or agent.”

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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