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Consumer Updates

BBB advises caution when rebuilding after a fire

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October 11, 2011 | 1,497 views | Post a comment

BBB offers advice for those recovering from recent fires

AUSTIN, Texas -- Victims of the historic Central Texas fires spent days camped out in shelters, waiting. Now they are returning to the ashes and starting to rebuild.

Better Business Bureau advises those residents to take measures to prevent unscrupulous businesses and scammers from victimizing them a second time.

“Those coming back to damaged or destroyed homes are especially vulnerable right now,” said Carrie A. Hurt, president and CEO of BBB serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin. “Navigating the processes for filing an insurance claim or applying for aid can be stressful and confusing. At the same time, con artists are looking to make money from people who may have already lost everything.”

Mark Hanna, spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas, recommended those with insurance contact their insurance provider immediately to begin the claims process. He said insurance companies are currently working hard to ensure all claims are handled quickly and efficiently.

“This is not unlike a hurricane where you have many homes and many families that have been dramatically affected and are in need of assistance,” he said. “The industry is aware of the problem and they are trying to get a hold of all policy holders as soon as possible.”

Many victims of the fires may not have insurance or may discover they did not have enough insurance to cover their losses. Such residents in Bastrop, Travis and Williamson counties now qualify for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Anyone who suffered damage in the wildfires should register with FEMA as soon as possible. The deadline to register is 60 days from Sept. 9. Victims can register over the phone by calling 800-621-3362, online at www.disasterassistance.gov or in person at FEMA's Disaster Recovery Center at the Bastrop Ninth Grade Center, 1602 Hill St., between the hours of 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Those who are not covered by the federal disaster declaration may still qualify for several state programs or assistance through private charitable organizations.

Those whose homes were not damaged should read BBB’s tips on charitable donations and disaster preparedness.

To assist those trying to recover from fire damage, BBB offers the following tips:

For those with insurance

· Call your insurance as soon as possible. Once you know damage has been done to your home, the faster you can get the claims process started, the faster you can begin your recovery.

· Document the damage. Take photos or video of all the damage before you clean up or make improvements. This can help the insurance adjuster estimate the appropriate costs.

· Make only temporary improvements. If your house is only partially damaged, you may patch holes and make other temporary improvements to make it livable. However, do not spend money on permanent improvements until your insurance company gives the OK. Remember to keep all receipts for your insurance later.

· Be present when the insurance company surveys the damage. You can help point out areas the adjuster might not have seen, like a shed in the backyard. If possible, have your contractor there as well to help estimate the costs of rebuilding.

· Consult the experts. The Texas Department of Insurance has a hotline set up to help people with questions about their insurance or problems with their insurance company. Call 1-800-252-3439 for assistance. The Insurance Council of Texas offers similar services.

For those without insurance

· Salvage what you can. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s publication “After the fire: returning to normal” contains valuable information about where to turn and steps to take after a fire occurs, including tips on how to clean fire-damaged items. It is available at www.fema.gov.

· Know where to turn. The Texas Department of Public Safety has a list of resources available for those who are not covered by the federal disaster declaration. Otherwise, visit www.fema.gov for information on assistance available through the federal government. Also remember charitable organizations like your local church or national charities.

Call BBB at 512-445-2911 or visit www.bbb.org with any questions, to report a scam or to check out a business.
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