Beware of storm scams
By Celeste Beam
Alexandria Echo Press
When a severe storm rumbles through a community, most often, friends, family and neighbors help pick up the pieces left behind.
Storms can leave a mess for homeowners to clean up, especially if there was damage from hail, straight-line winds or tornados.
But storms don't always bring out the best in people. Damage left behind - whether it's hail damage to a roof or siding blown off from strong winds - is a haven for scammers.
"Even in storms, there is a potential for scams," said Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels.
Wyffels contacted the newspaper after the last storm blew through town, in the middle of July, about door-to-door contractors who were trying to scam homeowners who had hail damage.
He wants the community to be on the look out and homeowners to be educated for the potential of scam artists who are soliciting business after a storm.
First off, he stressed that the majority of contractors are not scam artists, but he wants the public to be aware of those from out of town who go door-to-door hours after a storm makes its way through a neighborhood.
"It's the people or the companies you haven't heard of," said the chief. "The ones who come to you in a matter of hours, before homeowners even have a chance to survey the damage. We just want homeowners to be wary of those going door-to-door."
What happens, explained Wyffels, is that after a storm blows through an area, representatives from an out-of-town contracting business will knock on doors and solicit business to fix problems caused by storms.
They pressure homeowners to sign a contract to do the work. The contractors tell the homeowners that if their insurance doesn't cover the cost, they don't have to pay and are off the hook.
However, the contractor will bid the project for $15,000 for example, and then the insurance adjustor looks at it and says the project will cost $10,000. The homeowner, most often then, is stuck paying the difference because they signed a contract.
The contractors will often inflate the cost of the job, he said.
Wyffels strongly advised homeowners to read the "tiny fine print" that is most often located at the bottom of the contract.
He also said that if homeowners have people knocking at their door, they should always ask that person if he/she has a peddler's license.
Those soliciting business door-to-door in the city of Alexandria must have a peddler's license, said the chief.
According to an Alexandria city ordinance, the term "peddler" means and includes "door-to-door, street-to-street, place-to-place or temporary vendors without a fixed, determined or permanent location at which the person transacts business, carries on his or her occupation or practices his or her profession, and includes, but it not limited to, persons commonly referred to as peddlers, solicitors, transient merchants or canvassers regardless of whether the said peddler shall be operating their business upon public or private property."
The ordinance also states that it is unlawful for any person to engage in peddling without a license from the city of Alexandria.
Besides a peddler's license, Wyffels said that homeowners should request to see the person's contractor's license before any paper is signed. If the person does not have a peddler's license or a contractor's license for the state of Minnesota, Wyffels advised homeowners to call the police.
Wyffels also highly advised homeowners that when a storm rumbles through their neighborhood and they find damage on their property, they should contact their insurance company to have an insurance adjustor come out to look at the property. Then, a reputable contractor can be contacted and the work can be completed properly.
"If it smells like a scam or sounds like a scam, it probably is a scam," said the chief.