The Norman Transcript

June 7, 2013

Tornado victims ‘bullied’

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Tornado victims should not be bullied into signing contracts, said Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak Thursday at Moore City Hall. High pressure sales and bullying are the most common complaints being registered by victims following recent storms.

“Take a deep breath, take a step back when these individuals approach you,” Doak said. “Make sure they have credentials.”

So far 32,000 insurance claims have been filed and $250 million advanced to customers by insurance companies since tornadoes began hitting the state on May 19. The Norman-Little Axe area was among affected communities, but the heaviest damage was in Moore — also a Cleveland County community — where an F-5 tornado tore through 14 city miles on May 20. Two weeks later, another F-5 hit El Reno in Canadian County on May 31.

“Unfortunately, those (insurance) dollars are often the target of scams,” Doak said.

With thousands of Oklahoma homes damaged in the violent spring weather this year, con artists will be drawn to the area, he warned.

In Moore, all contractors are required to have a license from the city as well as a state license. The city has issued 257 licenses so far.

Doak warned people to be leery of anyone going door-to-door in damaged areas offering clean up or repair services.

“While many are honest and responsible, many are not,” he said.

Contractors who are not licensed and bonded may do shoddy work. Valid insurance adjusters have cards issued by the Insurance Commission.

When hiring a roofer or contractor, Doak said to ask for and check all references, compare prices and ask to see the person’s driver’s license. Write down the name and driver’s license and take down the vehicle tag number as well.

“Never sign a contract with blanks,” Doak said. “And never pay in full until all of the work has been completed.”

The Insurance Commission is hosting meetings at area churches to assist consumers with questions and concerns.

In partnership with Moore Police Chief Jerry Stillings, state insurance investigators are going through damaged portions of Moore and checking anyone doing repairs or roofing for proper credentials and permits. Investigators from the North Carolina Department of Insurance have come to Oklahoma to assist.

Anti-fraud Unit Director Mike Copeland said bullying has been the most common complaint the Insurance Commission has heard as the recovery process gets underway. People said they felt pressured and bullied into signing contracts.

While the anti-fraud unit is being proactive in checking for credentials, they aren’t trying to discourage free market competition.

“We know that people need to get into the area and work,” Doak said.

As anti-fraud team members move through damaged areas, they are asking for identification of contractors.

“Some may have done business in the area in the past and not know they need to register with the city,” Copeland said. “These are consumer protections.”

If a contractor does not have a license, the citation is about $230.

“Each of us are writing three or four citations a day,” Copeland said.

When the sign of an unregistered business is in the yard, the investigators are reaching out to the businesses.

If we see they are not yet performing work, we will give them a courtesy call,” Copeland said.

Contractors should not solicit work without the appropriate permit, he said.