Business Columns & Blogs

Watch for “storm chasers” after disaster declarations

The roof of Weiser Lanes collapsed Jan. 9 under the weight of snow. It was the first of a string of building collapses in the Payette County community.
The roof of Weiser Lanes collapsed Jan. 9 under the weight of snow. It was the first of a string of building collapses in the Payette County community. kjones@idahostatesman.com

Every day, it seems the snow piles shrink and the temperature warms up. Spring may come after all this year.

But the damage from recent storms is glaring, and cleanup has only just begun. Take a drive around the western Treasure Valley, and you’ll see collapsed sheds, barns, outbuildings, businesses and homes.

In some cases, it will take a team of professionals to restore things to normal. A few weeks ago, the Better Business Bureau offered storm-damage recovery tips. Now we are sounding the alarm again, because of a message from Lt. Andy Creech of the Payette County Sheriff’s Office.

“Payette County is starting to get calls in reference to people selling services to remove collapsed buildings and debris,” Creech said. “I have concerns that all of these companies will not be reputable.”

Payette County is one of many Idaho counties that Gov. Butch Otter has declared disaster areas this winter. Creech is an emergency manager in the county, and he has been working to compile damage information. While numbers are still being tallied, he said the county has spent $1.8 million related to snow removal and recovery on public buildings.

“For a community of our size, that’s a significant amount,” Creech said.

To less-than-reputable individuals, disasters such as this are like dollar signs. Creech took a call from a Fruitland woman who said someone had showed up at her door offering to clean up the damage in her yard for a price. While you may encounter a legitimate business this way, these post-storm door-to-door solicitations are also a common scam tactic.

Any time someone knocks at your door peddling products or services, ask for documentation. People who solicit at your door should provide proper identification of their businesses and themselves. If salespeople lack credentials, ask them to leave.

Boise requires a license for door-to-door solicitations. So do most other Treasure Valley cities. The license includes the individual’s name, photo and an ID number. You may want to check with your city government to see what this badge looks like.

Check with your town or municipality to see what permits contractors need to work on your property. Make sure the contractor is properly licensed and insured. For a business to be BBB-accredited, it must be up to date on this paperwork.

Check with your insurance company. If you are working through a claim, check your policy before making major repairs.

Don’t pay for the job in advance. Be wary of any contractor who demands full or half payment upfront. Insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual.

Pay by credit card, if possible; you may have additional protection if there’s a problem.

Get a written contract that includes contact information, price, timeline, and any details related to the project. Don’t authorize work on an oral agreement, and never sign a blank form.

Creech said it best when he told me: “I would hate for anyone to be a victim twice.”

Emily Valla, emily.valla@thebbb.org, is the Idaho marketplace director for the Better Business Bureau Northwest. To check a business or report a scam, go to www.bbb.org or call (208) 342-4649.

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