Consumer Alert: After the Storm, Lindeen Urges Steps to Avoid Scammers

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HELENA, Mont. — As Billings-area residents assess the damage from last weekend’s hailstorm, Montana Insurance Commissioner Monica J. Lindeen is warning residents to beware of “storm chasers,” or contractors who come seeking work in communities recovering from serious storms, sometimes doing shoddy work or committing insurance fraud.

A major storm pelted Billings with golfball-sized hail over the weekend, shattering windows and destroying other property.

“Most people and businesses offering repair services after a storm are legitimate, but this kind of event always brings out some unscrupulous operators trying to take advantage of the situation,” Lindeen said. “It’s important that homeowners make sure they’re working with legitimate contractors, and don’t set themselves up to be scammed.”

Lindeen advised Montanans to check the website of the Montana Secretary of State to find out if a business is licensed to operate in Montana. Even some businesses that claim to be “locally owned and operated” are in fact part of out-of-state enterprises that come to communities and quickly leave again.

Contractors are also required to be licensed with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, which maintains a searchable online  database.

Lindeen suggests some simple steps to avoid being scammed.

  • Take photos of all damage.
  • Never sign blank insurance forms or incomplete contracts.
  • Ask for and verify references.
  • Don’t finish paying for work or sign a completion certificate until the work is done and approved by you.
  • Check the Better Business Bureau and other online sources for any reports of previous scams.

Montanans should be wary of any contractor who:

  • Comes door-to-door and uses high-pressure sales tactics, like trying to get you to sign something immediately.
  • Makes offers of a free roof or siding — or offers a way around paying your insurance deductible.
  • Has out-of-state driver’s licenses or out-of-state tags on their vehicles.
  • Asks to submit your insurance claim for you. Never allow a contractor to submit your insurance claim for you because your insurance company can only accept a claim from you – the customer.

Lindeen asks Montanans with questions or who want to report suspected insurance fraud to call her office at 800-332-6148.