Conyers tornado: Beware of fake storm chasers preying on vulnerable homeowners

CONYERS, Ga. - Those recovering from storm damage should beware of scammers. They prey on vulnerable homeowners and business owners when disaster strikes. Fake storm chasers go door-to-door, promise a quick fix, but end up taking off with your money.

A massive tree tumbled onto Gwendolyn Victor’s house. "I heard something like a roaring sound and the rain and the wind," Victor said. "I was scared, I was real scared."

The next day, Wednesday morning, she surveyed the damage. "Trees fell on it, water leak, gutters down, my storage in the back is gone," she said.

Contractors stopped by offering to fix Victor’s home. Victor’s family warned her about predators ready to swoop in.

"They told me what to look out for, for scammers. If they ask for money up front, first of all," Victor said.

A powerful storm hammered Rockdale County, toppling trees and ripping apart houses. Fly-by-night fixers often descend on unsuspecting homeowners at their most vulnerable moments.

"It’s very easy to scam somebody," said Chris Nasser, general manager for Canopy Roofing. Nasser says bogus contractors look for easy marks. "Scammers are going to be out here to try to collect money early from homeowners. They may try to look at a home and get a deposit payment and then they’re going to run off with that," Nasser said.

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It’s often hard to tell the good contractors from the bad. "These homeowners are devastated right now, they’re without power, they’re desperate. And they’re just waiting for someone to help them." Nasser said.

Taelore Hicks, media and public relations lead with the Better Business Bureau, says look out for the hard sell. "These people go door-to-door offering services that seem too good to be true," Hicks said. "People will have to pay a big amount of money up front. Then they never hear from that contractor again.

"You should never feel forced to make a big purchase immediately, any reputable business is not going to make you feel that way," Hicks said.

Victor has a simple message for would-be scammers. "Leave us alone," she said.

The experts give these tips to avoid getting ripped off:

Call your insurance company or get a referral.

Look for a contractor who can handle the whole process from tree removal to fixing the damage to your property.

Beware of anyone working solo making big promises.

Check their license with the Georgia Secretary of State or look for accredited contractors with the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org.