Goodness, gracious, great balls of ice!

Ok, so you have to be “of a certain age” to recognize that play on the words of a song Jerry Lee Lewis made famous in the 1950s. But it’s difficult for hard-working property owners of any age to believe the lengths to which some criminals will go to use hail activity to try to make a quick (and illegal) buck – and Florida homeowners insurance customers are sometimes forced to foot the bill.

The sky (roof) is falling!

Fly-by-night, fraudulent roofers and repairmen, often referred to as “storm chasers” (not to be confused with researchers who track and capture severe weather footage and scientific data), canvass neighborhoods after hail storms seeking unsuspecting homeowners who are vulnerable to scams. Storm chasers go door-to-door leaving doorknob hangers or speaking with homeowners, trying to convince them that their roofs may have sustained severe damage from recent storm activity. The roofer usually offers to provide a free inspection – or even a free roof replacement! If the word “free” doesn’t entice the homeowner, some storm chasers use scare tactics – exaggerating the damage and potential problems – to trick homeowners into agreeing to replace the roof. If all else fails, some scammers will even go so far as to inflict damage to a home’s roof or siding to convince homeowners of their roof’s damage.

Dimes, hammers, and golf balls – oh, my!

Stories of hail damage fraud abound – fraudulent roofers have been known to resort to “dime spinning” (using coins to scrape roof shingles and create indentations). Small ball-peen hammers and golf balls in socks are other commonly used tools of the hail fraud trade. But scammers’ amateur efforts fall well short of the techniques and skills employed by the professionals – forensic engineers, forensic weather consultants, and other experts – who understand the science behind hail activity and have been trained to detect intentional damage. Think of them as the “CSI” of hail fraud – and they’re able to distinguish between the hallmark signs of hail damage and normal wear and tear due to the age of the roof.

If it sounds too good to be true…

Much like a tornado, hail can cause severe damage to one home while the home next door sustains little to no damage. Fraudulent roofers often point out, “your neighbor got a new roof, you should get one too.” Although roof replacement offers can be tempting, especially if your roof is “of a certain age,” beware! Storm chasers often make big promises and then take the money and run, without having done a day’s work on your roof, so never make an upfront payment. It’s also not a good idea to authorize a roofer to begin work on your roof without having filed a claim with your insurance company and having an adjuster conduct an appraisal of the damage. If your insurance company ultimately denies the claim, you could be on the hook to pay for any work the roofer has done.

This Coalition Against Insurance Fraud blog post outlines how one Sandy victim prevailed against a storm-chasing scammer.

Fraudulent roofers can cause a hail of a headache for individual homeowners--and a pain in the pocket for all homeowners in the form of insurance rate increases. But it's important to note that there are plenty of credible, licensed roofers in Florida who have a reputation for providing exceptional service.