The Spring 2022 tornado outbreak that affected part of the southern United States was responsible for leveling this mobile home in Allendale, South Carolina. (Photo: NWS Charleston/Wikipedia Commons)

In a scene that’s becoming increasingly common after a disaster, ruthless “storm chasers” target tornado victims, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr and Insurance Commissioner John King said in a recent statement.

“Unfortunately, bad actors know to target victims where they are most vulnerable, such as after storm damage,” Commissioner King said. “Beware of anyone who shows up at your home or place of work immediately after a storm. Your first call after a disaster should be with your insurance company to make a claim. Whether it’s a contractor or a public expert, do your research and verify your credentials before signing contracts or agreeing on services.”

Georgia was one of a few states affected by a tornado outbreak that swept across the southern United States in early April 2022. The event caused about $1.3 billion in damage, injured more than a dozen people and caused one death, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“With scammers poised to prey on those affected by the recent storms, we want to ensure consumers are aware of their legal protections and how to spot a scam,” said Attorney General Carr. “If your home or business has been damaged, we urge you to do a thorough search for a contractor before hiring anyone to make any repairs. We understand this is a difficult time for many families in our state, and our Consumer Protection Department stands ready to assist any Georgian who believes they have encountered potential scams.”

The couple said criminals often take advantage of victims’ desperation after a disaster. They can charge money upfront for repairs and then walk away with the cash, charging exorbitant prices, doing unnecessary repairs, or doing substandard work. Scammers can also encourage storm victims to file fraudulent insurance claims.

They provided the following advice to help storm victims avoid scamming “storm chasers”:

  • Stay away from contractors who require full upfront payment, only accept cash payments, or refuse to provide you with a written contract.
  • Avoid door-to-door offers for home repairs. Instead, ask friends and neighbors for recommendations.
  • Be wary of any contractor who offers to pay your insurance deductible or offers other free incentives as these can be signs of fraud. Always check with your insurance company before committing to any storm-related repairs or inspections.
  • Ask contractors for references and check them.
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau if there are any complaints against the company.
  • Ensure the contractor has the necessary license and/or affiliation for tree removal, water damage repair and mold mitigation.
  • In Georgia, contractors, electricians, plumbers, and heating and air conditioning repairers must be licensed. Ditto for public reviewers.
  • Legitimate contractors should be able to produce a business license; general liability insurance; work compensation insurance; written manufacturer warranties and written labor warranties.

Carr and King also encouraged consumers to beware of fraudulent charities that pop up in connection with a disaster.

State resources available to storm victims in Georgia include the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, the Georgia Secretary of State’s Charity Division, and the State Insurance Commissioner’s Office.

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