How to File an Insurance Claim When Disaster Strikes

man grieving over house destroyed in flood.

Hurricane season is an old and familiar threat for many residents living along the southeastern coast of the U.S. Hurricane Matthew, which made landfall in the U.S. Oct. 8, left an estimated $6 billion worth of property damage in its wake across five states (Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia).

Unfortunately, many insurance policies require homeowners to purchase supplemental policies for specific coverage for natural disasters like hurricanes and flooding. Homeowners in Matthew’s path will need to act quickly to file damage claims with their insurance companies.

Here are some tips to get started:

  1. Report any crimes to the police. If your home has been burglarized or vandalized, you should report that to the police first. File a police report and make sure to write down the names of all of the officers that you speak with. Your insurance company will ask for those police records.
  2. Contact your insurance agent. Next on your list should be contacting your insurance agent to get any damage and/or loss claims started. Contact the insurer as soon as possible. Insurance companies typically put limits on the time homeowners have to file claims, which vary by state. Ask the insurance agent if your coverage includes hurricane insurance. Disaster policies often have deductibles, so be sure to ask your agent if you will have to meet a deductible before your coverage kicks in. Lastly, ask for a timeline for your claim, so you know when to expect it to be completed.
  3. Gather all necessary paperwork. Take this time to ask your insurance company what documents you’ll need to report damage or loss. They may ask for repair estimates or evidence of structural damage.
  4. Make temporary repairs. Insurance claims can take weeks or even months to process. Don’t wait that long to make repairs to your home that could pose a safety risk to your family. Keep all of your receipts so that you can be potentially reimbursed down the road.
  5. Beware of contractor scams. Sadly, natural disasters can be a prime breeding ground for contractor scams. Be wary of anyone who charges a fee to help you complete disaster assistance forms like those offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Those are provided for free from both FEMA and the American Red Cross. Also, don’t agree to a random inspection by someone posing as a federal emergency response agent. Check their credentials first and ask for a phone number to verify that they are with an authorized agency. Some scam artists have been known to charge unwitting homeowners fees to enter them into federal “grant programs” that purport to help hurricane victims. Legitimate grant programs do not require upfront fees.
  6. Relocating? Keep your receipts. If your home has been rendered uninhabitable, and you are forced to relocate, keep track of those moving expenses as well. Some insurance policies will cover you for the “loss of use” of your home.
  7. Take inventory of damaged or lost items. Make a list of damages, and check it twice. You’ll need it to prove any losses that you claim. Take pictures or video of the damage, and don’t throw anything away yet. Make note of all of the damages you’ll need the adjuster to see. If an item is not properly recorded, you could lose its value in the claim. While you’re at it, get your electrical system checked. It may cost you upfront, but it’s worth checking, and most insurance companies will reimburse you for the inspection. Pull together your inventory and bundle it with any copies of receipts you can find for your damaged items to give to the adjuster when they arrive. Turn it over with any repair estimates that you’ve gotten from licensed contractors, as it could help speed up the process.
  8. Make an appointment with the claims adjuster.
    More than likely, your insurance company will also send an adjuster to check out your home, verify your claims, and tell you how much the damage is worth. They should connect with you soon after you contact the insurance company to arrange a time to come to assess the damages. When they connect with you, make sure you have any necessary paperwork ready to go, and you will be all set to finish your claim.

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Want to Help Hurricane Matthew Victims? Watch Out for Charity Scams

charity-scams-surrounding-hurricane-matthew

Hurricane Matthew is making headlines, as many Americans prepare for the heavy winds and flooding that could potentially come with the storm as it heads toward the coast.

When these storms roll in, it’s common for people to set up crowdfunding sites to help those in need. While many of these sites are legitimate, it’s important to remember that they aren’t typically vetted by reputable authorities, so they can be set up by anyone — including those who want to scam you. (We saw this type of thing happen after several other natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina.)

“After every natural disaster, people become so generous and want to help,” H. Art Taylor, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, said in an email.

If you’re considering donating to help those who felt the effects of Hurricane Matthew, the BBB encourages you to be smart and thoughtful about how you give and offers several ways to do so. For example, if you’re giving funds online, make sure you’re careful about the links you click and where you enter personal information.

You’ll want to verify that the site is in fact what you believe it is (as scammers often create a misspelled version of a site to confuse those who may mistype their intentions) and also that it is secure (look for https in the URL). It’s also a good idea to go directly to a charity website by typing it in yourself, instead of via a link that came in an email.

According to the BBB, there are some things to think about when considering donating to a storm relief charity.

  • Nearby Groups: Consider charities that have people in the areas that were affected by the storm who can actually help those who are experiencing the aftermath, as they’ll be able to help more quickly.
  • Be Wary of Claims That 100% of Donations Go to Victims: For the most part, charities have fundraising and administrative costs, so claiming they won’t take a portion is not providing you with full transparency. (Remember: Even using a credit card comes with a fee, so if you’re paying with plastic, the charity will have to cover that fee or may offer the option to build your transaction fee into your donation.)
  • Avoid Pressure: Reputable charities are not known for pressuring people into giving money, so if this is your experience, you may be dealing with a scammer.
  • Giving Items Instead of Money: Donating food, water, clothing or some other item, while done so with the best intentions, may not always deliver the best results. Before doing so, check with the charity to find out its distribution plans and, as the BBB advises, “be wary of those who are not experienced in disaster relief assistance.”

The BBB also mentioned people should be aware of “storm chaser” scammers — those who come in after storm damage and offer “deals” to help people with repairs. It’s a good idea to do your research and verify legitimacy before hiring anyone.

If you do have to pay for repairs after the storm subsides, and you do so on a credit card, make sure you don’t charge more than you can afford, as credit card debt can be almost as damaging as the storm. You can see how any credit card debt you carry is affecting your credit by viewing a free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

Image: LTopDesign

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