Better Business Bureau Warns Storm Damage Victims About Scam Artists

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KENTWOOD, Mich. (July 7, 2014)—The Better Business Bureau is warning tornado victims to be on the lookout for scam artists.

The alert comes after an EF1 tornado came ripping through Kentwood late Sunday night.

Phil Catlett, president of BBB West Michigan said now’s the time when so-called “storm chasers” prey on people’s whose homes were damaged.

“What storm chasers do is they follow bad weather events around the country,” Catlett said. “They come and knock on your door and say, ‘Hi, I noticed you had a tree with a problem, we can trim that down, cut it up for you…we’ll take care of all that we just need $2,000…$500.’”

It’s a scam that leaves the job all but complete.

“Typically what they’ll do is some of the work and they’ll leave and they’ll never come back,”Catlett said.

Richard Popma has lived at his home on Eastern Avenue for nearly 30 years. While trees can be seen covering the lawns and sidewalks nearby, Catlett had a much bigger problem come Monday morning. The fierce winds caused his garage to collapse on his two cars.

“I was standing at the door looking outside and I was like, ‘That ain’t that bad of a storm,” Popma said. “Turned around, all of a sudden the winds just picked up. You could hear a loud noise. [I] looked across the street seen a power line snap said, ‘let’s go into the basement.’ Got in the basement we weren’t there a minute and it was calm walked right out here seen all the damage.”

Popma estimates $15,000 worth of damage to his garage and vehicles. He said the house received minimal damage.

Still, people tried cashing in on the wreckage.

“There’s been a couple people that have stopped by,” Popma said. [I] don’t know their names, didn’t pay attention, because I figured that’s what they were…just scammers.”

It’s an attempt that Catlett said doesn’t come as a surprise.

“Every time we have a major weather event that causes a lot of damage with siding being pulled off, roofing being pulled off, trees coming down it brings out all kinds of business, some good some bad,” Catlett said.

For people needing assistance, Catlett suggests verifying a person’s business record. He also said folks should always sign a contract before offering up any cash that way they know exactly what it is they’re paying for.

Or, someone could take Popma’s suggestion. He said he simply contacted his insurance company that put him in contact with a trusted contractor.

“They’re going to tell you who to call…your Better Business Bureau…just call some of the people locally; don’t go for anybody just walking up and handing you [their] card ‘cause they will scam on ya,” Popma said.

The pastor of Remedy Church, located at 4951 Eastern Ave., said the American Red Cross and Salvation Army will be setting up a staging center on Tuesday. He also said members of the church will be offering a chainsaw service. He said those in need don’t have to worry about being victimized. He said the service will be free.

You can contact the church at 616-288-3483.

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