How to avoid 'storm chaser' scams

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Charleston Police officers are warning people to watch out for "storm chasers." They're scammers -- unlicensed contractors -- who agree to do work after a disaster, then take the money and run.

Workers stand in an East End front yard after removing a tree that fell during Monday night's tornado.

"Check for licensing and insurance. They have a right to see those certificates and do their due diligence," Lt. Autumn Davis said. "If it seems too easy, too convenient, or there is something that seems suspicious, then it probably is."

People should avoid paying cash, always get multiple estimates, and make sure to get a receipt for the work. Also, do not hire door-to-door contractors.

"Reputable businesses typically don't operate that way, so oftentimes consumers, after a storm, they either need or want the work to be done immediately," Davis said. "So they sacrifice doing the homework for convince factor and often end up paying in the long run because these scam artists either don't have the proper equipment or they don't have the proper skills to do the work that they are promising to do."

Anyone has the right to see a copy of licenses and proper insurance before hiring a contractor. Contractor licenses can be checked through the West Virginia Department of Labor at (304) 558-7890. The Secretary of State's Office maintains licenses to operate a business and can be reached at (304) 558-8000. Charleston residents can check with the City Collector's Office at (304) 348-8024 for any business in the city.

Proving his insurance coverage is normal for Repairman Richard Turke.

"Most homeowners will not let you do anything without insurance because one wrong cut and the tree could go the opposite way you don't want it to go and hit somebody's house or take down a power line," Turke said.

Some small cleanup work in a yard can be done by the homeowner. Many larger trees require special trucks and cranes to ensure dangerous limbs do not fall and injure people.

"If it is leaning up against a house, or if there are any power lines involved in it, going through the trees there, call a professional and somebody with insurance," Turke said. "Because one wrong move and you take down the wires and they will charge you for it -- a lot of money."