Consumer Alert: Unlicensed Vendor Fraud Common after Severe Weather
Tallahassee, Fla. – As communities across Florida begin the recovery process from Hurricane Irma, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) warns Floridian to be aware of unlicensed vendors who try to take advantage of storm victims.
“As Florida homeowners seek help with cleaning up and repairing storm damage from Hurricane Irma, PCI warns them to be cautious about the vendors they hire,” said Logan McFaddin, PCI Florida regional manager. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of unscrupulous, unlicensed vendors who try to take advantage of storm victims. After suffering storm damage, the last thing homeowners need is to be ripped off by a fraudulent vendor.”
Assignment of benefits (AOB) abuse is a practice where lawyers and local unlicensed vendors work together to encourage homeowners to sign away their insurance rights. Homeowners are not just the victims. Some auto glass repair shops, who aren’t affiliated with insurance companies, try to convince unsuspecting consumers to sign over their insurance benefits. They may inflate the glass claim and then turn around and sue the insurance company, often without the policyholder’s knowledge. AOB abuse is a growing problem in Florida and is contributing to increases in insurance premiums.
“To avoid AOB fraud, PCI encourages Floridians to make sure they have use a preferred, licensed vendor to perform their home, business or auto repair,” said McFaddin. “Our goal is to get Floridians back on the road or their property repaired in a quick manner, while ensuring quality work is performed to protect their insured assets.”
PCI recommends the following tips to help homeowners save time and money and avoid being caught in a unlicensed vendor scam.
PCI’s Tips for Selecting a Repair Vendor
- Check credentials. Take time to research the background of any businesses you’re considering hiring to make repairs. Check their references and their status with the Better Business Bureau. Make an inquiry to the state attorney general’s office to see if the firms have any outstanding complaints.
- Shop around. Get written estimates and compare the bids. Ask for recommendations from friends and neighbors.
- Use your insurer as a resource. Insurers are committed to helping the claims process go smoothly and often can recommend a reputable vendor.
- Be suspicious. Vendors who try to rush you, especially on non-emergency or temporary repairs, often aren’t trustworthy. Be wary of anyone knocking on your door offering unsolicited repairs to your home. Don’t sign any documents regarding your insurance benefits without first talking to your insurer. Also, don’t believe a vendor who says they are supported by the government. The Federal Emergency Management Agency does not endorse individual vendors.
- Insist on a contract. Make sure you get a copy of a written, detailed contract that clearly states the scope of work, prices for labor and materials and estimated start and finish dates. Never sign a contract with blank spaces, which a crooked vendor can alter after you’ve signed it.
- Don’t pay first. Always inspect the work and make sure you’re satisfied before you pay. Most vendors will require a reasonable down payment on work, but you shouldn’t provide that until you have a written contract. Also, pay with a check or credit card instead of cash so that you have a record of your payments to the vendor.