Pa Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority Educates Homeowners About Contractor Scams
During this time of year when the potential for damaging storms increases, the PA Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority (IFPA) wants consumers to be aware of possibly fraudulent (storm-chasing) contractors who might appear in their neighborhoods immediately following one of these storms.
The IFPA reports that as property insurers in Pennsylvania saw a 13 percent increase in the sale of homeowners insurance from 2008 through 2011, claim losses had jumped by 94 percent. Using reports from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), the IFPA found that there’s been a dramatic increase in wind and storm damage claims in the Commonwealth – from 12,758 in 2008 to 50,012 in 2011. Claims that had involved hail damage went from 1,040 to 15,894.
Often fraudulent contractors out to take advantage of homeowners and their insurance policies are from out-of-state. They solicit customers door-to-door and target communities recently affected by storms, offering free storm damage inspections. And all homes are fair game – whether storm damage has occurred or not. In the worst circumstances, these contractors will purposely cause damage to a home to get the home’s owner to agree to repairs. Advertising that homeowners insurance will pay for all needed repairs and offering kickbacks to cover policy deductibles, the contractor rapidly moves through a community. So what signs should a homeowner look for so that they don’t fall victim to home improvement fraud?
According to the PA Office of the Attorney General, home improvement fraud occurs when: A contractor intentionally provides false or misleading information to convince a consumer to enter into an agreement for home improvements; a contractor receives payment and fails to provide the services or materials; a contractor damages a person’s property in order to solicit an agreement for services or materials; a contractor alters a contract or other documents without the consent of the consumer; a contractor publishes false or deceptive advertisements; a contractor misrepresents material as special order material or misrepresents the cost of special order material; a contractor misrepresents himself or herself as an employee of a governmental unit or public utility.
Homeowners should protect themselves against potential fraudulent activity by researching a contractor before hiring them. In Pennsylvania, home repair contractors must be licensed, insured, and – if they perform at least $5,000 worth of home improvements per year – registered with the Attorney General’s Office. Contractor registration and other helpful information to help homeowners select contractors can be found on the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s website at www.attorneygeneral.gov.
Being familiar with their homeowners insurance policy before a storm hits can also help a homeowner stay one step ahead of a fraudulent contractor scam. If homeowners have any uncertainties about what their policy covers, they should talk with their agent or insurance company now before repairs are needed.
The IFPA has created a special section on its website to provide consumers with information about home improvement fraud. By visiting www.helpstopfraud.org/hail consumers can learn more on this important topic.