Beware of ‘storm-chasing’ scammers, experts warn

Homeowners from Sugar Grove to Hoffman Estates are dealing with a mess left behind by a string of unusual February tornadoes.

Fierce winds uprooted trees, toppled fences, ripped away siding and scattered debris in front yards. The cleanup process, the insurance claims, and the list of repairs can all seem daunting.

That’s often when scam artists or shoddy contractors approach storm victims and try to catch them off guard, Better Business Bureau experts warn. Residents should still do their research and seek references from people they trust, officials advise.

“What I would tell residents normally is to get at least three bids,” said Karl Gewalt, the deputy building commissioner in Mundelein, where an EF-1 tornado touched down Tuesday evening. “Also, communicate with other neighbors or other people that they may know who have had work done.”

Solicitors are supposed to be registered with the village, Gewalt said. The Better Business Bureau also urges homeowners to be wary of out-of-town contractors who may offer quick fixes and check for proof of insurance and licensing.

“Whenever spring storms hit, storm-chasing scammers will soon follow, preying on homeowners’ emotions in their times of need and repairs,” Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois, said in a statement. “As a part of your storm planning, along with emergency kits, it’s always wise to create a contact list of trusted contractors in case you need emergency repairs.”

The Better Business Bureau has other tips:

· Ask for identification. Never hire a contractor or give someone money before checking ratings, reviews, or references.

· Get an invoice from the contractor and pay them directly, ideally with a credit card, which can offer additional fraud protection over other kinds of payment.

· Be leery of high-pressure sales tactics or upfront fees.

· Find business reviews and complaints at

To report disaster fraud or scams, contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Investigations and Inspections Division at (866) 223-0814.

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