Fraud experts warn about unscrupulous contractors offering to repair hail damage to homes, cars

Hail dents cars, punches holes into siding

DENVER - The huge hailstorms that hit the Front Range this week are being referred to as an insurance industry catastrophe.

Rock hard hail stones punched holes into siding, shattered glass, tore up shingles and dented sheet metal on thousands of homes and cars.

Total damage figures aren’t available yet, but Carole Walker of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association says “the damage was widespread.”

State Farm Insurance spokeswoman Angela Thorpe said 650 homes and 1,990 auto claims have been reported just to State Farm.

As homeowners scramble to get repairs done, fraud experts at the 1st Judicial District Attorney’s Office are advising caution.

“We strongly recommend that consumers take the time to do their research and get all the information about a contractor they’re considering working with,” said D.A. spokeswoman Pam Russell.

Russell told 7NEWS that unsuspecting consumers are easy targets for less-than-reputable contractors or professional scammers.

She said “Storm Chasers” or “Travelers” go door to door offering home improvement services.

“After paying for their services, consumers may be stuck with subpar work, partial performance or may wait for repairs that never occur because the contractor skipped town,” Russell said.

It’s up to the consumer to learn who is legitimate and who is not.

While driving through a hard hit neighborhood in Green Valley Ranch, 7NEWS spotted one contractor going door to door placing fliers advertising his father’s painting company.

Spenser Duran told 7NEWS that High Country Painting is a local business that’s been in Colorado since 1986 and is a member of the Better Business Bureau.  The BBB gives the company an A+ rating.

Duran says he’s aware of out of state companies trying to do business in the hard hit areas.

“We call them ‘storm chasers’ here,” he said. “They come with fliers just like us and try to take business away from local companies.”

It’s the same in the auto repair business.

Lee Fishbein of World Wide Auto Sport says so many cars were damaged by hail that he expects that his shop at 10th and Santa Fe will be in operation 7 days a week for the next year.

Fishbein says he has already seen the results of unscrupulous storm chasing repairmen.

“A customer brought a car in that had been repaired by someone else,” Fishbein said. “I don’t even know how to describe it. They put tape over the dent and spray painted it to cover the damage.  I was astonished when I looked at it and couldn’t believe what I’d seen.”

The DA’s office issued the following tips for anyone considering hail damage repairs.

  • Be wary of any contractors selling door to door.
  • Learn as much about the contractor as you can before you agree to do business with them. Obtain the company name, physical address, land and cell phone numbers, and company contacts.  Ask about the contractor's experience performing jobs of similar scope.  Find out whether subcontractors will be involved.  Obtain information for all subcontractors.
  • Obtain several WRITTEN estimates.  Insist on comprehensive estimates that include the exact work to be performed, the materials to be provided, the approximate start and completion dates, permit details, warranty details, payment details and cancellation and refund policies.
  • Compare estimates to determine if specified work is consistent with other contracts and to determine if the quality of materials is the same. Compare written warranties and guarantees. Include provisions for change orders. Obtain insurance and bonding information.
  • Contact the contractor’s insurance agent to determine if their policies are current and what protection the policy will provide you.
  • Request references.  Obtain the names, addresses and telephone numbers of references.  Contact the references to determine if they were satisfied with the work and if they believe the price was fair.  Ask if the general contractor or a subcontractor performed the work, whether they were paid and if the start/completion dates were met.
  • Ask if any problems occurred along the way and whether there were any unexpected costs.
  • Ask if appropriate permits and inspections were obtained, and whether the homeowner was satisfied and would use the contractor again.
  • Contact your local building department to determine what permits are required.  Ask building officials if they have dealt with the contractor in the past and are aware of any problems.
  • Check out the company with the Better Business Bureau at http://denver.bbb.org or call  303-758-2100.
  • Contact the Secretary of State to determine whether the company is registered in Colorado.
  • Require all representations to be in writing and have both parties acknowledge the specifics.
  • Insist on a written contract.
  • Read all contracts thoroughly including the fine print.  Know what you are signing.  When in doubt, obtain legal advice.
  • DON’T pay in cash or prepay for services.  Pay as you go and provide a small deposit only. Make sure the contract spells out the payment terms. Withhold final payment until work is completed and all inspections have passed.
  • Beware of offers that look “too good to be true,” when a contractor tells you that they have materials left over from another job or they had a job cancel, and they will pass the saving on to you. Or, that payments will be made to you for every referral, or all insurance deductibles will be waived.
  • DON’T BE RUSHED INTO A CONTRACT.  Be cautious of contractors that warn you that “time is of the essence, or that this is a “limited time only” discount.

 

Roofing expert Matt Daily, of Colorado State Roofing, says the only time where you should move expeditiously on repairs is when there is a leak in the roof that could cause more damage.

He too advises contacting the Better Business Bureau and the Secretary of State to find out about the history of a contractor and whether they are incorporated in Colorado.

Daily says roof repairs can be expensive, so it’s important to do your homework.

When asked about damage estimates for homes in the hard hit Green Valley Ranch area, Daily said with the damage he has seen to siding, roofs and windows he conservatively estimates that the typical homeowner might be looking at $9,000 to $10,000 in damage “on the low end.”  He said some homes will cost much more to repair.

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