The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

September 21, 2013

Senator points out roofing ripoff complaints

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

— Glib-tongued con artists are ripping off homeowners and insurance firms alike across southern West Virginia by making false inspections on roofs or creating minor damages themselves, says a state senator.

Two out-of-state firms suspected of cheating unsuspecting homeowners are actually licensed as contractors, but state Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, says they are misrepresenting residents after ascending their roofs to make unsolicited inspections.

“I’ve gotten complaints from constituents,” Hall said Friday.

“They come in, knock on your door, and say, ‘I’m from such-and-such construction company, and it looks to me like you’ve got damage to your roof.’ Then they get up there and take a look around. And they say, ‘If you’ll sign this paper and give me permission to get on your roof, I’ll work with your insurance company and get you a new roof. If not, then you don’t owe me anything.’”

The trouble with that, even if no claim is approved, Hall said, is the homeowner gets billed $400 for an “inspection fee” for signing a form that allowed the company to conduct its look-around.

“They’re either generating false insurance claims, or creating certain damage to the roof to create a false claim,” the senator said. “They’ll tear off a shingle when you’re not looking or something like that.”

In cases where roof disrepair is legitimate, he said, the firm will caution the homeowner that it must be given the job since he allowed them atop the roof to inspect it.

By and large, Hall said, victims of the scam are typical of ones ripped off by similar schemes — either the elderly on fixed incomes, or those in the lower economic strata.

“First off, the smart thing to do is to ask some questions: Why? Who referred you?” he said.

“These people are salesmen. They’re slick. They can talk. I’ve talked to a couple of them. They’re really good. They ought to run for office. People should ask for references of other jobs and to see their licenses, and insurance. But the first thing to do if you think there is roof damage is to call your agent.”

Hall couldn’t confirm if the firms are actually performing roof repairs but said he understands that some have done them and their work was acceptable.

But the question remains as to whether any of it was necessary in the first place.

“In some cases, these guys are serving not only as shady contractors but trying to serve as our insurance adjuster, which, under law, is not really allowed in West Virginia,” Hall said.

Reputable, local firms don’t voluntarily conduct roof inspections, he said, adding, “It’s very difficult to get them out since they stay so very busy.”

“To be a smart consumer, you shouldn’t allow anybody on your roof until you verify who they are,” he said.

In some instances, Hall said, such con artists have volunteered to act as a go-between to negotiate with insurance firms to avoid paying the deductible.

“Basically, they’re saying they’ll inflate the price enough to cover your deductible,” he said.

“They’re misrepresenting. They’re driving up insurance claims in this area. And we’re already paying big insurance rates in southern West Virginia. All stuff like that does is hurt everybody. It’s just generating false business and increases the costs on everybody.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com