Imagine your home, your life’s work, up in flames as you stand watching in shock and despair. Suddenly… you are surrounded by fire chasers and shady contractors offering help. You think to yourself “Where am I going to sleep tonight”? or “What am I going to do now?” You are hounded by people trying to board up your house when the flames have not even been put to rest. Your mind is too preoccupied with the loss of your materialistic possessions and the roof over your head to even think “How do these people even know I had a fire?” or “Where did all these people come from?”
The Chicago land area is flooded with disreputable construction companies known as fire chasers. This year, the Illinoisattorneygeneral.gov website reported the story “MADIGAN CRACKS DOWN ON UNLICENSED PUBLIC INSURANCE ADJUSTERS, HOME REPAIR SCAMS ACROSS CHICAGO LAND AREA”. Fire chasers are an epidemic and causing chaos in Chicago land while costing consumers thousands of dollars.
“How do these people find out I had a fire?” you are asking yourself. They have more ways than you think. Typically, board up companies will listen to police scanners. They find out where a fire is the minute the fire trucks are in route. There is a man who lives in Chicago that listens to police scanners every day. He types up the incident, the location and the severity of the loss as he hears it. This list is provided to chasing companies for a fee. A single list can pass through hundreds of hands making every fire chaser aware you had a fire. Local news stations report fires even as they are taking place. Facebook even reports local incidents such as fires on The Chicago Fire Department Incidents page. There are legit services such as IPN and FireNet Chicago that send notifications on fire incidents in real time to a pager or cellular device.
Once your address has been obtained, anyone can access the Cook County Assessor’s website to look up the owner of that property. This website will not only provide the name on the title to the home it but will even let others know if you have a mortgage. This information is useful to fire chasers if you had a fire and there is no insurance on the house but there is still a mortgage. *If a home does not have a mortgage it is up to the homeowner to carry insurance on the property. Some mortgage companies offer a force place policy to protect the property if there is a loss but there is no insurance on the property. A force place policy will only cover property damage and not personal contents.
Google is a great way to find any information. That includes information on you as well! Once your name has been obtained, the internet can be used to find your workplace along with who your family and friends are. Your coworkers, family and friends can be harassed as fire chasers make an effort to get to you. These chasers will even try to locate you by calling hotels close to your home to see if you are staying there.
Once fire chasers and board up companies find out about your loss they show up uninvited to inform you that your insurance policy states that it is your job to secure your property. It is your job to secure your property if you have property damage, but you shouldn’t be using a company that arrives uninvited while your house is still smoking. A reputable company is licensed, bonded, insured, associated with the Better Business Bureau and typically referred to you by your insurance company. Disreputable companies are not licensed, not bonded, uninsured, not associated with the Better Business Bureau or were not referred to you by your insurance company. A policy holder has the right to choose their own restoration company, contractor or board up company to secure their property or handle their repairs. Although that is true, shady companies will use that statement along many lies and false promises that will gain your trust to have you sign their agreement. You will be promised thousands of dollars more than your insurance company will offer, even cash on the side, if you choose to have them handle your repairs opposed to your insurance. These offers are illegal, immoral and show that these people are only looking as your loss as a profit to them. They do not actually care about getting you back home. The money you are being offered would be coming directly from your insurance proceeds. If you were to take these bribes you would not have enough money to restore your property and can face severe consequences for scamming your insurance company.
Without doing a proper background checks you put yourself at risk along with your insurance proceeds. Insurance proceeds are often stolen because these companies have you sign paperwork that allows them to have their name listed on your check from the insurance. Board up companies will inform you that you have to sign aboard up assignment in order to secure your property. This is true, but you need to be aware of what you are always signing or you could be signing your life away. Disreputable companies convince you that you are signing for the board up but in actuality you are signing for them to do that along with allowing them to do the repairs. If you have not read the paper work carefully you could then be locked in to an agreement with no option for cancelation. This paperwork is submitted to your insurance so that they have proof that you have chosen them to also restore your home. People that are looking for fast cash will often obtain your phone number off that assignment and then sell your phone number to any person that is willing to pay. The more people your number is sold to the more money they are able to make. In turn, your phone is then ringing off the hook with companies soliciting their services.
Why would anyone choose one of these companies to restore their home? People that have suffered a loss are not in the right state of mind to think clearly. They may be mesmerized by hearing they can make money off their loss, get more money to do the repairs than the insurance offered or that they will have their deductibles waved. In reality, they will be scammed by disreputable companies, out of their house longer, make themselves open to having a lien placed on their property, have to file a lawsuit to recover their money, risk having insurance proceeds stolen and leave themselves open to all sorts of legal and moral complications. Should you suffer a loss, turn to your insurance company for guidance and not some stranger that shows up at your property uninvited. Fire chasers will try their best to feed you lies and convince you that your insurance company does not have your best interest at heart. You will have many questions regarding insurance proceeds, replacement of your contents, temporary housing and how it will be paid, when you will be receiving your initial insurance check along with other important questions. Your insurance company will be able to answer all these questions because they know your policy. You can have faith knowing that your insurance company is looking out for you and they will be abiding by the law. Seek help from those you know and trust.
To avoid any misfortune when choosing a company, do your research! Investigative work can keep you from making an uneducated decision.
Make sure the company you want to do business with:
· Has no lawsuits on line. Look up a company’s name as well their contacts to see if they have any lawsuits filed against them. This can be done by searching the county website for Cook County, Will Country and Dupage. Even if the business is in one county, a company can still have a lawsuit against them in another county. Many fly by the night companies have been shut down due to numerous lawsuits. They reopen with a new business name and a fresh start so do your homework.
· Visit http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/ to see who the business owner is and where the address is registered in Illinois. Some companies that were shut down reopen with a new name but still use the previous business address.
· Is associated with the Better Business Bureau. Companies that have a complaint free record show they are serious about the services they provide. If a business has had their accreditation revoked it will appear on their BBB page as “There is alert for this business”!
· Verify that company has a good online reputation. Google the company and their contacts. Look for a professional website, pictures of their work, referral contacts or any feedback from former clients online.
· Look up the company’s name as well as their contacts on YouTube to see if there is anything online you should be aware of. Google keywords to assist in your findings.
There are often more than just “how to” videos in the construction industry.
· Ask a company to show you proof they are insured and bonded. Some contractors are only licensed in particular cities.
· Do not deal with a company that asks for all the money for your repairs upfront.
· Make sure there is some kind of a warranty on their work.
· If you have suffered property damage seek out a restoration company that is a professional in the field and not bob the handy man. If a home is not properly restored you may have to deal with the lingering smell of smoke or mold issues.