Con-man contractors could prey on Kokomo tornado victims

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KOKOMO, Ind. - The cleanup is well underway after Indiana’s tornado outbreak on Wednesday. But the Better Business Bureau is warning storm victims and those looking to donate funds to be careful who you trust.

Con-man contractors can use this time to prey on those who’ve lost their homes.

Boxing up and moving out, Joe Gardner, his wife, and kids didn’t want to do it under these circumstances.

“My six year old is so devastated he couldn’t come back. Every noise is a tornado. It’s hard, very hard,” he said.

The family lives along Belvedere Drive, near Markland Mall, an area hard-hit by the tornado. His neighbors’ homes are leveled.

Gardner’s is still standing but with major structural damage. He said it’ll likely have to be demolished.

“As far as where we’re going to go live, we have no idea at this point,” he said.

Barely a day removed from the storm, contractors and tree trimmers have been going door-to-door in Kokomo neighborhoods. FOX59 crews saw many of them on Thursday night.

“Most of them have been really nice. There’s some that start telling prices,” Gardner said, “There are people trying to price gouge and stuff which is frustrating… It just makes it that much worse. You lose faith, and you don’t know who to turn to and trust.”

That’s why the BBB of Central Indiana cautions homeowners to avoid making quick moves.

“Take your time. Don’t make any emotional decisions,” said Tim Maniscalo, President and CEO of BBB of Central Indiana.

Maniscalo advises storm victims to get at least three estimates before picking someone to do work. He said you should also pay no more than one-third of the total cost upfront if a deposit is required, while also making sure a contractor is bonded, insured, and reputable.

“One of the big tip-offs is what kind of ID do they show,” he said, “Do they have markings on their truck.”

Gardner said when his family does decide to build, it will not be on the same street. The 2013 tornado hit Belvedere Drive. His house was spared then, not so now.

“At some point you gotta call mercy and go someplace else,” he said.

The BBB also advises making sure if you donate money that you are giving to a reputable 501c3 charity, registered with the IRS. You can check charities through this BBB site.

Maniscalo said be wary of cash donation cups, while you like to think the best of people, there is no true way to know where that money is going.

“If someone comes around and asks you for cash, they may be the most well-intentioned, good-hearted people you can find, but they also might be a con-artist, and you just don’t know,” he said.

You can find more information from the BBB of Central Indiana here.

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