West Palm Beach, FL — After any good sized storm, like our recent brush with Tropical Storm Ernesto, people in Hurricane effected areas become re-energized about improving their Hurricane preparedness. In itself, this is wonderful. People purchase hurricane shutters for the first time, install garage door braces, write hurricane plans, and some even buy high-end products like impact windows. All these things improve your chances of weathering the next storm with less risk to life and property. Unfortunately, the people who make their living by stealing people’s money know this all too well, and they step-up their efforts to separate you from your hard earned dollars in the weeks following a storm.
One of the main reasons we started our community at aBigwind is to call these scammers to your attention. The more we know about who these scam artists are, and what tricks they employ, the more likely we are to avoid them. Recently, we came across an online tool to perform background checks on companies and individuals that can help you with this.
It’s called PeopleFinders. PeopleFinders allows you to run an extensive range of background checks that will flesh out a lot of information about any potential contractor that you’re considering for a job.
Included in their options are a criminal background screening, company background check, and individual background check. Clicking on the Criminal Check link will take you to a page that shows the databases that will be searched, along with the kinds of criminal activity that PeopleFinders will search for. These include things like: Felonies and Misdemeanors, Offenses & Charges, Court, Conviction date and Risk Level.
According to PeopleFinders.com CEO Rob Miller
“Hurricane Katrina showed the world that terrible situations can still be made worse by greedy and uncaring individuals. “Scam artists love to prey on victims of a disaster because they know they are desperate to rebuild their lives and their homes,” Miller states.”
Although PeopleFinders stands to benefit from our paranoia about being defrauded, we think their tool, and our general paranoia about being scammed, are well justified. You don’t have to look very hard in places like Biloxi, New Orleans, or pretty much any town in Florida to see how common this problem is – news reports are filled with sad tales about Hurricane protection scams.
PeopleFinders offers a number of tips to Hurricane Protection consumers to use in avoiding contractor scams which we include here to add to your Hurricane self defense plan.
1. Online People Searches
: You would be surprised at the wealth of information that an online people search web site like PeopleFinders.com can provide regarding a potential contractor or company that wants to repair your home. For individual contractors, a background check
can tell you if a contractor is licensed, has a criminal record and even how long he or she has been working in your area. For companies, a business search
can tell you if a business is legitimate by providing such information as which professional licenses a business holds, its location, who owns it and even what their office looks like.
2. References: Don’t take a contractor’s word for his or her quality of work. Just like hiring a potential employee, it is always a good practice to check references. If possible, make sure to visit these properties to see their work first hand. Also, you can always contact your local Better Business Bureau to obtain more information on a particular contractor or business.
3. Pro-actively Choose your Contractor
: Avoid door to door contractors. To make sure that you are only hiring legitimate contractors, only select those from lists provided from state housing and contracting agencies
4. Never Pay Cash: Paying for home improvements with cash should be avoided because cash is the toughest form of money to recover should there be a problem with your contractor. In addition, never pay for a job completely up front. Any payments should be made only after you have had a chance to review a contractor’s qualifications.
5. Comparison Shop: Make sure to get multiple bids on your repairs before having any work done. Price is not the only aspect of a bid to be considered when reviewing bids as business history, insurance coverage and proper licenses to work in your area or home must also be taken into consideration.”
Tropical Storm Ernesto will go down as the storm that wasn’t – at least from the perspective of the U.S. Mainland that was bracing for our first real threat of the 2006 Hurricane Season. Don’t get me wrong – we’re all very happy that Ernesto broke down like a Wall Street Junk Bond Dealer. And, we’re already asking ourselves and our community what we can learn from the storm – or from our response to the storm.
First up – the mainstream media is about to jump to the immediate conclusion that since Ernesto fizzled, future storms are more likely to be ignored by area residents. This logic is easier to understand when you spend hours struggling with storm shutters, waiting in gas lines and enduring grocery cart cattle calls that are right out of a wild west movie only to learn that it was all for naught. We look across the street at our neighbor that didn’t do a thing and we hate them for being so damn lucky. We become numb to it all. Apathetic would be the watch word here.
How about all the things that were smoother this year than last?
I noticed quite a few improvements here in the West Palm Beach, Florida area. Over the last couple of years all your basic Hurricane supplies quickly ran out. Trying to find some C or D batteries, water, propane, flashlights or anything else used to ‘camp’ inside a stifling hot oven (better known here as a house without air conditioning from the storm aftermath) was next to impossible. This year, I found both grocery stores and our local home improvement stores both well stocked and relatively uncrowded.
Have distribution methods and preparedness improved in these retail sectors or were we all just better stocked-up after two years of constant reminders, delivered to us by high and low pressure fronts that steered nasty Tropical Storms and Hurricanes to our neck of the woods?
Here’s what hasn’t changed.
People, including yours truly, still put off taking action to protect themselves and their homes until the last minute. Hey, we’re busy, just like you, and we don’t have time to waste. If we’re going to prepare, we all have some internal threshold that needs to be met before our basic human desire to live kicks in and fires up the save-your-ass afterburners.
People still rush around like morons, including yours truly, after finally accepting that a storm may in fact arrive on our doorstep.
People are a little more on edge, blaring horns a little longer than needed, waving arms around excitedly, gesturing with hands and fingers in ways that we’d be otherwise quite embarrassed about.
Well, maybe not me.
Then there’s the gasoline…
If there’s one thing people don’t like it’s not having any options – and apparently if you’re a Floridian, running like hell is one of our favorite options. We’re fond of hanging chads and concealed carry gun laws for Granny as well.
That’s why we fill up our cars before, during, and after, we do anything else. And then if our cars are full, we fill up our spare gas cans. And if the storm still isn’t here yet, we go fill up our boat’s gas tank. Then, if the storm still isn’t here, we fill up our lawn mower because, heck, someone, or something might be able to ride it the hell out of here. We can live without a lot of things here in Hurricane Country, but gas ain’t one ‘em.
We ran out of gas quickly and the stations were jammed. I understand the lines, especially during peak times, but stations running out of gas seems entirely avoidable. What’s the problem, we’re not paying enough these days for our gas? Perhaps the petroleum companies can’t afford to send extra trucks so we can buy more of their product? I really thought that with advances like new Florida laws requiring gas stations close to major highways to have backup generators were a sign that we were building more fail safe systems? The power never went out, and we still couldn’t get it right.
It wasn’t because we had a lack of gas. Governor Jeb Bush reminded us that we didn’t need to hoard gas, that we had a plenticious supply, and that we had just done such a good job of being prepared (hoarding) that we had run low in some places.
Maybe next time we can get the re-supply of gas right? Here’s a hint to the petroleum industry – if you get this right, you can rob us blind even more!
Three days out from a forecast Tropical Storm or Hurricane hitting a region start sending a lot of extra gas trucks! I know you’ve already thought of this but apparently Buford didn’t get the memo. Better yet, I’ve got an idea to make you even more money.
Portable gas stations.
After all, what’s a gas station but a big tank of gasoline with spigots attached to it. A tanker truck is just an above ground gas station on wheels with some gas pumps missing. But what about modern conveniences you ask? Sure, a cashier, twelve temporary pumps, all hooked up to wireless ATM’s would be nice. But we’ll pay cash in the first few days after the storm since we understand that our communications infrastructure will be amiss. WE KNOW an engineer could figure this out. Actually don’t we already do this in the military? Supply chain right? Oh, so someone already thought of this a long time ago. Well, this is America. It seems like there must be a market for this and if it’s not South Florida, I don’t know where else I can suggest that’s better.
In closing, I just want to remind our readers and myself that, like our Tax deadline, December 31st, or Memorial Day, Hurricanes can be prepared for. Planned for. Strategized over. Staffed for. Contingency planned. Worst-case scenario’d. We can and should expect our providers to meet the demands of our market. And we can and should expect to use common sense and be accountable for firing up our save-your-ass afterburners just a little earlier, and a little more completely, the next time.