TDCI Offers Scam Prevention Tips | Local News

In the wake of unprecedented flooding in Middle Tennessee continues, the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance is sharing consumer information about filing insurance claims, hiring contractors for home repairs, home safety and avoiding scams for Tennesseans.

Heavy rainfall on Aug. 21 created record-breaking flooding that claimed lives and caused damage to hundreds of homes and vehicles across Dickson, Hickman, Humphreys and Houston counties.

To assist consumers’ recovery efforts, TDCI provides tips to aid all Tennesseans when filing insurance claims, restoring power, selecting contractors and avoiding scammers who might prey on storm victims.

“Tennesseans have repeatedly demonstrated their resiliency in the wake of recent tragic natural disasters, and I know that we will all work together to help our friends and neighbors recover and rebuild,” TDCI Commissioner Carter Lawrence said in a news release.

Tennessee consumers who have questions about filing a claim or about their insurance policy can contact TDCI’s team at 615-741-2218 or 800-342-4029. Consumers may visit our website for additional information or to file a complaint online regarding potential disputes with their insurance carrier.

The following tips come from TDCI’s Insurance Division, the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Division of Regulatory Boards:

FILING INSURANCE CLAIMS

  • File a claim as soon as possible. Call the insurance company or agent with a policy number and other relevant information. A policy may require that notification be made within a certain time frame.
  • If a home is damaged to the extent that you cannot live there, ask the insurance company if there is coverage for additional living expenses.
  • Document the damages by taking photographs or video of any damage for each instance the home or property was damaged.
  • Make temporary repairs necessary to prevent further damage to your property (cover broken windows, leaking roofs and damaged walls).
  • Never have permanent repairs made until your insurance company has inspected the property and an agreement is reached on the cost of repairs. Be prepared to provide the claims adjuster with records of improvements made prior to the damage.
  • If you feel that you are unfairly denied a claim by your insurance company, consumers should file a complaint with TDCI at https://www.tn.gov/content/tn/commerce/insurance/consumer-resources/file-a-complaint.html.
  • Never sign over an insurance check for rebuilding, do not pay with cash or pay the total charges before the work is complete.
  • Only conduct business with licensed insurance agents and building contractors. To verify an insurance license, visit the National Association of Insurance Comissioners searchable database at https://sbs.naic.org/solar-external-lookup/

RECONNECTING TO ELECTRIC POWER

Before power can be restored to a flooded home, a certified electrical inspector working with the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office must conduct visual inspections of locations impacted by floodwaters to assess potential damage.

If it is determined that floodwaters did not reach electrical equipment, it will be left to the local power company to determine if electrical service may be turned back on. If minor damage from floodwater is observed, the replacement of receptacles and switches will be necessary to ensure the safe operation of electrical equipment with no need for further inspection.

If the electrical inspector determines that floodwaters rose to a level that affected electrical equipment, the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office advises that the property owner work with a licensed electrician to determine what components need to be replaced or repaired.

If so, a subsequent electrical inspection will be conducted before the property is re-energized. Homeowners insurance may help cover the cost of replacing appliances and other personal belongings and property that has been damaged.

GENERATOR SAFETY

With the loss of power due to flooding, some people may rely on portable fuel-powered generators which are potential sources of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas created when natural fuels burn incompletely. Breathing high levels of carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness or even death.

Never use a gas generator inside a home, garage, carport basement, crawlspace or outside near a window, door or vent. A generator should only be used outdoors and at least 15 feet away from buildings. It is dangerous to use a gas or kerosene heater inside a home or other building.

TIPS FOR HIRING CONTRACTORS

  • A contractor’s license is required before bidding or price negotiations when the total cost of the project is $25,000 or more.
  • For work that costs less than $25,000, check with the local government building codes office to confirm whether a contractor needs a state license or local license to perform home improvement, electrical, plumbing or HVAC work, as well as their permit requirements for inspections.
  • Before selecting a professional, ensure they are properly licensed for the project through our our Public Search feature.
  • Get several bids and check references before committing to a contractor.
  • Be wary of contractors selling repairs door-to-door, especially when they ask to receive payment upfront or offer deep discounts.
  • Generally, do not pay more than one-third of the cost upfront and make sure the terms of payment are in writing.
  • If you are dealing with a company or person who promises to remove debris from a property, ask them to list the services they will provide in writing.
  • Ensure that the contract provides for you to make an inspection and approve the work before making the final payment.
  • Tennessee’s felony theft law covers consumers whenever a contractor takes money and fails to perform work within 90 days. Pursuant to T.C.A. 39-14-105, consumers may contact local law enforcement and file charges to prosecute the contractor for theft. More information about the law can be found at https://www.tn.gov/commerce/regboards/contractors/consumer-resources/consumer-related-laws.html.
  • Consumers can check the complaint and disciplinary history of a contractor by contacting the Board for Licensing Contractors by phone at 800-544-7693 or 615-741-8307 or emailing our team at [email protected]. To file a complaint, consumers should visit tn.gov/commerce.

SEVERE WEATHER CONTRACTOR SCAMS

While many people seek to help after severe weather, there is also an increased risk for scams and fraud. Watch out for:

  • Upfront fees to help you claim services, benefits or get loans. No federal or state government agency charges application fees for services or benefits.
  • Con artists posing as government employees, insurance adjusters, law enforcement officials or bank employees. Confirm credentials by calling the agencies if necessary.
  • Organizations with names similar to government agencies or charities.
  • Limited time offers. Don’t be pressured to make a decision on the spot or to sign anything without having enough time to review it.
  • Fake rental listings. If the offer sounds too good to be true or the property owner can’t show the property beforehand, it’s a bad sign.