Fire Damage Recovery - Don't Automatically Trust the Pros

After years of drought, California is experiencing a dangerous and destructive fire season. With one click on the 2015 California Fire Map, you can see fires burning all over the state. Fire damage recovery is an important topic these days.

Sadly, along with fire comes destruction. Homes and businesses burn down or receive significant damage, resulting in the need for property restoration or repair. Depending on the damage done, you may require a number of fire damage and cleanup services. Typically, companies offering this type of work advertise a variety of options, including:

- Emergency home board-ups/evacuations

- Packing and moving

- Demolition

- Short- and long-term storage options

- On-site cleaning and deodorizing

- Smoke damage and soot removal

- Repainting and refinishing of damaged structural elements and furnishings

- Water damage restoration

- And so on.

In most cases, these types of companies are reputable and have the best of intentions. However, when wide-scale disasters occur – like the recent wildfires in California – scams abound. Fly-by-night “fire damage and clean-up crews” set up shop in the hopes of making a quick buck. They’re only too happy to take your money – and/or your belongings - and run.

If you have been a victim of a fire or other natural disaster, it’s important to use the same level of due diligence you would in any other circumstances where you might hire a professional team or crew – especially if they want a deposit up front. Otherwise, you could end up losing your cash and have nothing to show for it. Or, you might find that your possessions are hauled away for “storage” and then never returned, with no way to locate or contact the fraudsters who took them.

Fire Damage Recovery: How to Protect Yourself from Being Scammed

When hiring professionals who will have access to your home, business, or other personal property after a natural disaster, you should:

  1. Contact your insurance carrier. If you have homeowners or another form of liability insurance, contact your insurance company to obtain a list of their pre-approved service providers. You’ll not only be assured that you’re hiring a legitimate company, but the process of filing your claim and receiving any related reimbursements will likely go more smoothly.
  2. Check the contractor’s website. If the business you’re considering hiring doesn’t have a website, you might want to pass. Sure, a fraudulent website is easy to set up, but most crooks won’t go to that level. A well-designed and maintained website is a good first sign of a legitimate business. If they have years of archived blogs with a consistent voice and branding message, all the better.
  3. Check the Better Business Bureau. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is another good place to search for information about the contractor, vendor, or business. If they aren’t listed there, it may be a sign to move on to the next recommended person on your list. The BBB keeps track of complaints and reports, as well as whether or not they were resolved, and assigns a grade to all listed professionals.
  4. Check online review sites. Established online review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List can provide some insight into the reputation of the business or individual you are considering working with. However, these types of reviews can be easily faked, so you should take them with a grain of salt.
  5. Verify their professional license. In most cases, the person or company you hire should have some type of professional contractor’s license or certification, which should be visible on their website, business cards, letterhead, etc. If not, ask for it. Then, contact your local building department or the licensing agency itself and verify that the license is current. Never work with a professional contractor or vendor who isn’t licensed and insured.
  6. Ask for references. Ask a contractor or vendor for professional references from clients who have had the same type and scope of work performed in the recent past, then take the time to contact them and ask for specifics about the job done. If the references are phony, it will be readily apparent and you’ll be thankful you figured it out before being swindled!

Have You Been Ripped Off by a Fire Restoration or Other Professional?

 If you feel you have been taken advantage of by a “professional” company or individual involved in fire damage recovery, a licensed private investigator might be able to help. Services like background checks and people-finding databases can help to locate a business’s principle owner or individual contractor, and to gather additional evidence that could be helpful if you are filing a lawsuit.

Contact Mike Garroutte, owner of Linked Investigations. Your initial consultation is always free. Mike will listen to your situation and can provide valuable feedback, as well as professional investigative services if need be. Contact us online or by phone at 714-432-9911 for more information.

Published on: 
July 28, 2015
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