TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Sept. 13, 2017 – As communities across Florida begin the recovery process from Hurricane Irma, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) issued a warning for Floridians to be aware of unlicensed vendors that 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," says Logan McFaddin, PCI Florida regional manager. "Unfortunately, there are a lot of unscrupulous, unlicensed vendors who try to take advantage of storm victims."
Assignment of benefits (AOB) abuse can sometimes be a cover for fraud. Under AOB, lawyers and local unlicensed vendors work together to encourage homeowners to sign away their insurance rights by promising to take care of all details. AOB abuse was a growing problem in Florida before Hurricane Irma and has contributed to insurance premium increases.
"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," says McFaddin.
PCI 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 references and their status with the Better Business Bureau. Make an inquiry to the Florida attorney general's office to see if the firms have any outstanding complaints.
Shop around.Get written estimates and compare 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. Don't sign any documents regarding insurance benefits without first talking to your insurer. Also, don't believe a vendor who says they're supported by the government. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) 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 upfront.Always inspect the work and make sure you're satisfied before you pay. Most vendors will require a reasonable downpayment 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.