Protecting Yourself From Fraudsters Following Winter Storms

The CBS 11 I-Team's Ginger Allen reports.

Video Transcript

- Pipe, as we know, bursting all across North Texas, and a lot of families scrambling for repair crews. But among the good guys, unfortunately, are plenty of people who are going to try to take advantage of a bad situation. Our team reporter Ginger Allen, now, explains how to protect yourself from the fraudsters.

GINGER ALLEN: So none of us is safe from broken pipes. You see this very small break? Here's what it did to my house.

But for many homeowners, the mess left behind could lead to much bigger problems.

CAMILLE GARCIA: Any time there's a catastrophe, we also see a spike in fraud.

GINGER ALLEN: Camille Garcia with the Insurance Council of Texas says scammers want to take advantage of families desperation.

Are you concerned there are thieves on the prowl already out in the snow?

CAMILLE GARCIA: Oh, absolutely.

GINGER ALLEN: So while you may need to hire someone quickly, do your homework first. Get multiple estimates.

CAMILLE GARCIA: Look at references. Ask family and friends in neighborhoods. Make sure that you look at their online reviews.

GINGER ALLEN: Once you decide, check the company's physical address. Ask for a licensing number and verify it with the appropriate licensing board online. And when it comes to the contract, be specific.

CAMILLE GARCIA: Make sure that everything that you want done is spelled out, because often, contractors will just give you this, yeah, I can do that for x amount of dollars. And you feel that trust, and you feel like, yeah, you know, he's my neighbor down the street. Get everything in writing.

GINGER ALLEN: That's includes a payment schedule. Don't write a big check up front. Instead, make incremental payments as work is completed. Some contractors may tell you it's easier and faster to sign your insurance payment over to them. Garcia says that's a risky move.

CAMILLE GARCIA: They are left unprotected. That contractor can just up and leave. And unfortunately, there is nothing that a policyholder or the insurance company can do.

GINGER ALLEN: The melting snow could reveal more problems on your property, so Garcia suggests focusing on one fix at a time.

CAMILLE GARCIA: Don't sign any contracts right now for extended damage repair, because you don't know what tomorrow's going to bring.

GINGER ALLEN: And you'll also want to get a very clear start and completion date. That way, you know both you and your contractor are on the same page. I'm Ginger Allen, CBS 11 News.