Home Building Articles

Storm damage: Don't let scams stump you

July 09, 2016

You look outside and see toppled trees and drooping branches caused by ice or a severe thunderstorm. Scammers see the same thing and view it as a chance to swindle you.

As winter quickly approaches, experts warn that unscrupulous contractors will soon be gearing up to swoop into storm-damaged neighborhoods to offer to clean up every branch, limb and twig. But they typically end up taking their victims' money, often fleeing to another state.

Ice and snow can damage trees by weighing down branches, which can snap and crash onto cars and homes. "As soon as trucks can get on the road, you're going to see scammers," says Basil Camu, owner of A-rated Leaf & Limb Tree Service in Raleigh, N.C., adding that some may not be swindlers. You should also look out for unqualified service providers, too. "You might have 10 to 20 trees service companies in your area that are reputable, and the rest are guys who have pickup trucks and chain saws and think they're tree companies."

Make sure you hire a company with insurance, Camu says. Don't just ask if they have insurance, ask them for proof, he says. The certificate of insurance should, at a minimum, contain the company's information and a date to show the coverage is current, he says. Under ideal circumstances, he recommends customers get proof of insurance from the business' insurance company. But for winter weather emergencies, you can accept the proof of insurance from the company, as long as you take other steps to make sure you're not being scammed, he says.

Unless a branch crashed onto your roof or into your yard, you may not realize you need a tree service company, so check your property for sign of imminent problems after a storm. Look for leaning trees or drooping branches, Camu says. Also, examine trees for signs of splintering, and check the root base --- if one side is higher than the other, you should call a pro to check it out, says Chris Etheridge, owner of A-rated CCF Tree Service in Raleigh.

Also, make sure to consult with the company about whether you can save the tree, says Tracy Langston, owner of highly rated All Tree Expert in Marietta, Ga.

Experts caution homeowners against trying to cut damaged tree branches themselves. "If it looks like anything needs to be done to the tree and you can't reach it by standing up, call a professional," says Daniel Foster, owner of A-rated Green Vista in Alexandria, Va. "So when you have ice and snow like this? Don't try climbing on a ladder. Call a reputable professional.

NOTE: If you hire an uninsured company and a worker gets injured on your property, you or your insurance company will have to foot the medical bills.

Source: Angie's List