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Severe weather breeding ground for scam artists

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An official with the Better Business Bureau said they always see an increase in consumer scams immediately after natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy or last summer's derecho.

She warned West Virginians to always check charities and contractor businesses to see if they're legitimate the next time severe weather hits.

After the derecho caused property damage and left thousands without power, many private contractors moved into the state. The Better Business Bureau calls those people "storm chasers," said Amanda Tietze, vice president of the bureau's West Virginia division.

Out-of-state contractors come in with quick fixes to problems such as patching holes in roofs or repaving broken driveways. When Superstorm Sandy caused property damage and other headaches in October contractors in the state became completely booked up making repairs, she said.

"[Out of state contractors] kind of have a good side because it does fill a need in the community," Tietze said. "However when problems arise later you cannot find these contractors again."

Also, these contractors sometimes come in with sub-par equipment and tools, she said.

"For home improvement scams, this is something we see especially after these natural disasters," she said.

She recommends everyone look over contracts carefully and to call the Bureau to see if those contractors have been rated.

Contractors can request to be graded on a scale of A to F, she said.

She also warned about contractors who go door to door. It's better to research a contractor and call them to find out their history than to trust someone off the street, she said.

When it comes to donating, there are always people who want to help out by raising money by starting charities after natural disasters, she said.

Problems arise because these people have no prior experience in starting or running a charity. If money is donated, often times it doesn't go directly to the necessary causes because proper protocols are not put into place, she said.

Tietze said the Bureau rates charities that have requested to be verified. Investigators check to see if the charity has a board of directors, has proper paperwork filed with the state Secretary of State and how that charity responds to complaints.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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