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Storm-Chasing Scammers "Come Out Of The Woodwork" To Prey On Flood Victims

Lots of homeowners in the northern suburbs are facing expensive repairs after major flooding along the Fox and Des Plaines rivers, and the Better Business Bureau is warning them to look out for storm-chasing scam artists offering to help.

"Unfortunately, unscrupulous people come out of the woodwork, and they take advantage of the consumers who are in dire need of getting their houses fixed," Better Business Bureau of Chicago President and CEO Steve Bernas said. "So they're taking advantage of the consumers. It happens all the time."

Bernas said storm-chasing scam artists come from all over the country when they hear about major storm damage.

"They have websites themselves where know where the damage is, and what people make, and the demographics, and they come out and take advantage of the people," he said.

Officials in Gurnee have said at least 100 homes and businesses have been damaged by flooding. In Lincolnshire, dozens more homes have been flooded.

Bernas said the most important tip for homeowners with any type of storm damage is don't hire someone who comes to your door and offers help.

"You've got to do some homework and research on them. The door-to-door people are ones that you never know where they come from," he said.

For homeowners who have lost Internet access because of storms, Bernas said they can call the Better Business Bureau for referrals to reputable electricians, plumbers, roofers, water removal services, and other contractors you might need. Homeowners also can contact friends and neighbors for recommendations.

"Unfortunately, just somebody coming to your house, that's probably the worst-case scenario," he said.

Bernas said it should always be a "big red flag" when someone you don't know shows up to your home making an unsolicited offer to help with repairs.

"Ask the BBB for information about a company ahead of time, because if you ask after and they're F-rated, it's too late; there's nothing we can do, and you've been duped in some way," he said.

The Better Business Bureau also said homeowners should never pay for repairs in cash, and always have a formal contract before any work begins.

"Sometimes these people write on a business card $200, whatever it is, and all of a sudden they ask for $2,000. Well, if there's no contract, how do you prove it? Make sure you just check them out. That's so important doing your due diligence," Bernas said.

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