With the clean up effort under way as a result of the tornado that affected Rochelle, Hillcrest, Fairdale and surrounding areas, the Illinois Better Business Bureau is warning people to be on the look out for shady contractors who may try to make quick cash out of victims of natural disasters including storms and tornadoes.

The BBB says that the first of what will be the first of many days of severe weather this spring and summer is predicted to bring with it high winds, hail and possible flooding. In some cases home owners will need assistance to fix problems, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises consumers to use caution in selecting contractors to make repairs.

The BBB's Steve J Bernas warns:

Along with the damage, natural disasters also bring scam artists, these scammers are known as ‘storm chasers’ and are a real threat; they rip-off consumers with promises of great work at cheap prices.

Going door to door they’ll make offers of roof and siding repair, removal of downed trees and damaged landscaping even auto repair.

If anyone comes to your door offering to begin work on damage, take their information and tell them that you will follow up if you are interested in using them for repairs.

If your property has been damaged as a result of severe weather, the BBB offers these tips before choosing a contractor:

  • When approached by a contractor, ask for proof of licensing and bonding.
  • Try to get at least 3-4 quotes from contractors, and insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual.
  • Do not pay for the job in advance. Be wary of any contractor who demands full payment up front.
  • Do not hire people who show up at your door offering services such as tree or debris removal and roof repair.
  • Resist high-pressure sales tactics such as the “good deal” you’ll get only if you hire the contractor on the spot.
  • Check out the company first with the BBB at www.bbb.org and deal only with reputable local contractors.
  • Get a written contract that specifies the price and the work to be done and a time frame. In Illinois state law requires a written contract with all costs enumerated for home repair or remodeling work over $1,000.
  • Prices are often high in the immediate aftermath of a storm. Buy only the services that are necessary to make your home safe and habitable. Wait at least a few days to hire other contractors because the rates are likely to drop.
  • Pay by credit card, if possible; you may have additional protection if there’s a problem. Otherwise, pay by check. Never pay in cash.
  • Check that the contractor’s vehicle has signs or markings on it with the business name and phone number.
  • Be sure that all promises made are put in writing.

If you have flooding problems to avoid being scammed, the BBB recommends three things to successfully hire a contractor:

  • Request bids from two or three different companies.
  • Don’t automatically pick the lowest bid.
  • Base all bids on the same criteria.

Also, make sure you review contracts thoroughly reading all agreements, guarantees and instructions.

Bernas cautions that consumers should never sign a blank or partially blank contract. “Make sure all oral promises are put in writing. Be wary of vaguely worded provisions, exclusions or limitations which could pose a problem later,” Additionally he notes, “In Illinois a contract is required for all repairs totaling more than one thousand dollars”.

Typically, a down payment of one-third the total contract price is made with additional payments due after completion of each phase of work. Final payment should not be made until the job is completed and you have inspected the work.

Before signing any home improvement contract consider the following tips from the BBB:

  • Research for details and free information on contractors you can trust at www.bbb.org and consider using the BBB’s FREE online service eQuote to obtain estimates, proposals or general information from BBB Accredited contractors.
  • Get all estimates in writing.
  • Never sign a contract with blank spaces or one you do not fully understand.
  • Homeowners should check with local and county units of government to determine if permits or inspections are required.
  • Determine whether the contractor has the proper insurance.

The BBB also makes these recommendations to property owners looking to obtain flood insurance:

  • Call your insurance agent or company to inquire about the availability of flood insurance in the area. Keep in mind that flood insurance becomes effective 30 days after it is purchased.
  • Standard flood coverage does not typically cover damage resulting from sewer backups or sump pump issues. Ask your insurance agent or company if such additional coverage is appropriate to add to your policy.
  • Homeowners should take an inventory of their personal property and make photocopies of their insurance policies, keeping all such important papers in a secure location away from home. Taking pictures of various rooms and their contents is also a great way to document the contents.

For more tips on scams, visit www.bbb.org, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.