INDIANAPOLIS — When severe storms move through central Indiana, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Central Indiana warns that residents should be on the lookout for scammers waiting to take advantage of opportunities.
According to the BBB, these scammers are what they call ‘storm chasers,’ and they’re not referring to the people that take videos in severe weather.
“These are people who will follow these storms. They will very quickly go into a neighborhood that’s sustained damage and start knocking on doors,” said Tim Maniscalo, president and CEO of the BBB serving Central Indiana. “If we have a very severe event that’ll cause damage, I will guarantee that the storm chasers will find that and they will be in that neighborhood.”
The BBB said damage caused by storms can often bring in out-of-town contractors soliciting business, and said some storm chasers may falsely create an identity or impersonate a local business in order to appear legitimate.
Maniscalo said a major red flag to watch out for is, “if someone comes to your door unsolicited a half-hour after the damage has occurred, be on the lookout.”
Storm chasers, oftentimes, use tactics such as the “good deal” that you’ll only get if you hire a contractor on the spot. Although there is a chance the contractor itself could be legitimate, not all are.
Maniscalo said, “don’t act immediately. They’re going to ask you for a down payment and if they aren’t here locally, you may never see them again, so you may be giving them money and you may never see them again.”
Many municipalities require a permit to solicit if someone is wanting to go door-to-door selling a service. The BBB encourages anyone approached by a person saying they are a contractor should ask for identification and check their vehicle for a business name, phone number, and license plates in your area or county.
Maniscalo also warns customers to be aware of storm chasers who imitate legitimate businesses. He said taking the time to do your homework and verify with each business a person says they’re representing, that they really work there.
“On any scam, number one, don’t act emotionally. That’s what the scammers want. They want you to get in an emotional frame of mind,” Maniscalo said, “as opposed to thinking about it logically.
He said it’s important to watch out for offers that seem too good to be true, or an incredibly low-priced service.
“If it’s that good, it’s probably not a good deal for you,” said Maniscalo, who also mentioned some homework could go a long way.
The BBB offered several other tips for storm victims:
- Get several quotes, and insist payments be made to the company, not an individual.
- Do not pay for the job in advance. Be wary of any contractor who demands full or half payment upfront
- Check out the company first with the BBB, and deal only with reputable contractors.
- Get a written contract that specifies the price, the work to be done and a time frame.
- Prices are often high in the immediate aftermath of a storm. Be careful of price gouging.
- Pay by credit card, if possible; you may have additional protection if there’s a problem.
- Check that the contractor’s vehicle has signs or marketing on it with the business name and phone number.
Unfortunately, even when storms aren’t posing a threat to an area, there are already scammers, who could be. In the Indianapolis area, local police agencies are finding that’s the case based on several recent reports received.
Scams targeting seniors in Indianapolis area
IMPD public information officer Genae Cook said, “We’ve had several reports of people posing as either tree trimmers or some type of public service-type personnel, water company, people of that nature coming to your homes and attempting to gain entry into your home by saying you either have a water problem or they want to speak to you about some trees at your residence that may need to be worked on.”
“We are seeing this not just in IMPD jurisdiction, but our detectives are working with detectives in other areas around Indianapolis that are experiencing the same,” Cook shared.
Right now, the agency said they have received a small number of reports, less than five, and that it is something they’re still working on.
“We just want to get this information out there to prevent any more,” Cook said.
Just like the BBB encouraged when looking out for storm chasing scams, Cook said it’s important to make sure you know who you are talking to and ask for identification.
“Some of these reports that we are getting is that people are coming into the homes and while they’re in the homes distracting the homeowner, that either a person that they’re with at that time or waiting for them in the car is then going to the residence or going outside in the garage area or in the lawn area and taking possessions,” said Cook.
In these cases, and other cases reported by nearby police departments, the individuals tend to target older residents. Maniscalo said the BBB often sees reports of similar instances, and scams in general, that involve senior individuals as targets.
“One thing that we’ve noticed is some of our victims are elderly or older in nature,” Cook said, “so it’s very important when you move into a neighborhood, watch out for your neighbors, especially the elderly.”
“It’s very easy for them to be targeted as a victim and for other people to take advantage of that situation. If you see someone addressing your elderly neighbor about this type of information, don’t hesitate to walk over, offer your assistance, and make sure that the person is a legitimate person for your neighbor,” Cook warned.
Maniscalo said there are several reasons why the older population tends to be a bit more vulnerable to these types of scams, including that they may be more likely to be at home to answer the door or telephone.
“They may not be as aware, or mentally not as sharp as they used to be,” said Maniscalo. “The elderly tend to have things. They have possessions in there, they have jewelry and other valuables, where a lot of time when you’re younger, you don’t have that many valuable things.”
Cook said other reports that they have received also involve people attempting to get a resident to come outside of their home and talk with them about the services they allegedly offer.
“They may take them to an area that’s more secluded while another person enters their residence and takes items like money, jewelry, cards, anything like that, and go right out the door,” Cook explained.
According to the BBB, when anyone comes to your door, whether it be before a storm, after a storm — anytime in an unsolicited manner — you should have your radar up a bit.
“Make certain that you aren’t fooled by something like this. If they’re really trying to distract you, particularly if there’s another entrance to your house that may be open or another way to access your house, keep your conversation very short,” shared Maniscalo.
“It’s kind of like magicians. They want you to look over here when the real trick is over there,” he said.
You should never let anyone into your home that you don’t know, both Cook and Maniscalo explained.
“Don’t let somebody come into your home, just speak to them outside, or tell them to come back at a different time until you can verify who they are or you have another person at the residence with you at that time,” said Cook.
Cook said the alleged incidents IMPD has been made aware of, were not in one neighborhood specifically.
Other area agencies, including the Fishers Police Department, have investigated recent incidents similar in nature.
“When you find something that doesn’t look right, call the police. Let us come out, let us help you,” Cook said.
You can visit the BBB’s Scam Tracker website to learn more about scams reported in your area or to report a scam yourself.