BBB Issues Scam Warning Following Historic Flooding

The record flooding in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota has decimated many homes, businesses and vehicles.

Unfortunately, “travelers” (out of town contractors) are likely to be showing up in the hardest hit areas warns the Better Business Bureau President and CEO Jim Hegarty. “Some of these contractors will prey on people whose property is damaged. They promise quick repairs, collect a fee and then, fail to deliver."

“Travelers” operate out of extended stay hotels or have established virtual offices to create the illusion of being local. They may complete the job as described but sometimes, poor craftsmanship and materials mean that problems will develop at a later date when the business has moved on to a new storm-damaged region. In the worst-case scenario, the contractor simply takes your payment, completes little-to-none of the work and takes off.

Although not all “travelers” are problematic, some may lack the proper licensing and make promises they can’t keep. Hegarty says legitimate firms that travel the country following violent storms will always be transparent about the nature of their business and the fact they are not a local company. “People who need to rebuild their property should never feel pressured to make a hasty decision or to hire an unknown contractor who comes to your door offering a quick fix. Recuperation from any disaster, large or small, is difficult and is usually a gradual process. It takes time and many resources to make the repairs properly.”

In an effort to help victims of disasters begin a safe recovery without the fear of being scammed, BBB’s Foundation, in cooperation with the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOADs) in Nebraska, Kansas and South Dakota, has developed “ReBUILD with TRUST” at www.bureaunews.org/disaster_landing.html. Here, you can find useful information about how to hire contractors, how to manage insurance claims and disputes and how to check on charitable organizations before accepting aid or making donations.

BBB offers the following advice:

  • Start your search with BBB.
  • Check with BBB to find reputable contractors that you can trust. You can find Business Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses in your area at bbb.org. BBB Business Profiles are more than just a grade. You can also read past complaints from customers and customer reviews.
  • Recognize the red flags
  • Beware of any contractor who uses high-pressure sales tactics or requires full payment upfront. .Also avoid contractors who require you to get the necessary permits. When looking to make a donation, be cautious about online giving, especially in response to spam messages and emails that appear to be from relief organizations. These may actually be scams formed to line the pockets of the perpetrators.
  • Vet the contractor carefully.
  • Verify that contractors meet all state and local requirements including being licensed, insured and bonded. Be sure to ask the business for references from recent jobs. Confirm whether or not the contractor will be subcontracting the job or relying on their own employees.
  • Seek at least three bids.
  • Beware of low-ball estimates that may potentially balloon over time or foreshadow shoddy work to come.
  • Make sure everything is in writing.
  • Make sure that the full scope of the work is explained in the contract, including cleanup and disposal of waste. All verbal agreements need to be included in the written agreement. Pay close attention to the payment terms, estimated price of materials and labor and any warranties or guarantees.
  • For those who seek to aid in relief, BBB urges donors to check trustworthy charities at BBB before making any donations. "Not only do Americans need to be concerned about avoiding fraud, they also need to know that charity relief efforts are legitimate and honorable," said Hegarty. "It's imperative to find businesses and charities you can trust."
  • Find trustworthy charities before giving.
  • BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance urges donors to make sure their contributions will go to legitimate and reputable charities and relief efforts that have the capability to help those in need. Be cautious when relying on third-party recommendations such as bloggers or other websites. Interested donors should visit give.org at to research charities and relief organizations to verify that they are accredited by the BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability.

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