Severe Weather Puts Homes in Harm’s Way

As a proud homeowner, few things strike fear into you as much as a severe storm warning. That’s because intense storms can pack damaging hail, strong winds and drenching rains. And homeowners like you realize that combinations of these forces can wreak costly havoc on your home and property.

And where bad weather goes, scammers follow. They know that once your home is damaged by the wrath of a hailstorm, you’ll want it repaired as quickly as possible. While most contractors are honest, there are some shady operators out there — many from out-of-state — that will try to take advantage of your urgent situation.

They have your insurance policy and bank account in their sights.

Dishonest contractors have one goal in mind — they want to take homeowners and their insurance companies for as much money as possible. Many go door-to-door in neighborhoods that have been hit by hail, looking for their next victim to take advantage of. Anxious to have their home’s damage repaired, many homeowners fail to see the warning signs of fraud.

Pennsylvania is a Prime Target for Hail

Be aware that damaging hailstorms (those with ¾” diameter hail or larger) are most likely to hit Pennsylvania in the months from April through September. While this type of severe weather can happen in any pocket of the state, data from the last two decades call out the southwest and west counties as expected to experience a higher frequency of severe hailstorms.1

Weather data collected from 1986 to 2016 indicates that Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Lawrence, Washington, and Westmoreland counties have been the most frequent targets for hailstorm events in our state.

Graphic of PA map with overlays showing hail reports
Hail Reports by Census Tract (1986–2016)
Source: Pennsylvania 2018 Hazard Mitigation Plan, National Risk Index 2018

Tracking the Trend of Contractor Fraud

From 2017 to 2019, annual hail loss claims in Pennsylvania increased from 15,154 to 31,635. While many of these are legit, the marked increase between the beginning to the end of this year span suggests that the dishonesty of some PA contractors is reflected in the statistics. Were heavy storms to blame for this increased activity or were more sinister forces at work?

Across the country, questionable contractor practices are causing consumers to increasingly take notice. The Better Business Bureau reports that for the decade leading up to 2020, the most frequent inquiries are those regarding roofing and general contractors. In 2020, inquiries regarding online retailers assumed the top spot.

According to the annual Consumer Complaint Survey conducted by the Consumer Federation of America, complaints related to home improvement/construction contractors were second on their list of the top ten complaints that state and local consumer protection agencies received in 2020, up from third in 2011.

Looking Out on Your Behalf

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office requires home repair contractors who do more than $5,000 a year in business to register with them. At attorneygeneral.gov, you can check to see if a contractor you are thinking of hiring is properly registered, has liability insurance, and is in good standing.

How to Spot Home Repair Scams

Shady contractors can be very slick operators and masters of deceit. The Pennsylvania Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority (IFPA) advises you to listen carefully to the details of their sales pitch. If they offer to increase your estimate to include repair of damages not caused by the storm or propose to inflate the total to rebate back your policy deductible, you likely have a scammer in your midst.

You can find helpful information to assist you in your search for a trustworthy professional at: “How to Choose a Home Contractor and Avoid Scams.” This article will help familiarize you with contractors’ language so you understand what the terms mean, know what services to request, and are aware of what to look for in finding a competent, legitimate vendor.

For more information on avoiding fraudulent contractors, download IFPA’s Pennsylvania Homeowners Guide to Protecting Yourself After the Storm (PDF). There are also some valuable tips on how to avoid becoming the victim of home repair scams on the Attorney General’s website.

References


1Pennsylvania 2018 Hazard Mitigation Plan, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Michael Baker International

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