WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Following the destruction of a tornado that tore through parts of Sedgwick and Butler Counties on Friday evening, the Better Business Bureau has said to exercise caution as you wade through the insurance claim process.

“In these difficult times, it can be difficult to know who to turn to when navigating post-storm damage,” BBB CEO Jim Hegarty said. “Natural disasters can certainly bring out the best in people, especially in our communities where help comes quickly from neighbors.

“But unfortunately, there are also solicitors looking to take advantage of vulnerable victims.”

Tornado damage in Andover (KSN photo / Andrea Herrera)

Those solicitors are commonly referred to as “fly-by-night” companies, and while on the surface, they look like reputable companies, they can take advantage of unsuspecting victims just trying to assess their damage.

The way these companies work looks helpful upfront but can turn quickly. Here are things to know when the repair firms come knocking.

  • Slow down. Don’t make quick decisions. Just take their cards and ignore high-pressure sales tactics. If they are truly there to help, they’ll understand your situation and come back when you’re not flustered.
  • Ask questions. Lots of them. Are they bonded? Licensed? Insured? Do they have workman’s compensation insurance? Where is their office? What is their phone number? Do they have references? How long have they been in business?
  • Look at their vehicle. Are the tags local? Is the company name displayed? If they don’t have a clearly-marked vehicle, that should be the first red flag.
  • Get quotes. Written and detailed proposals. Do not rush this decision, because a rushed repair is a poor repair.
  • Compare multiple quotes. Don’t just go to the first contractor because they can promise your home repaired quickly. This will help your insurance company as well.
  • Read everything on the paperwork slowly and carefully. Read it three times. One time for the information, one time to question what is on there, and one time to fully understand what they are proposing.
  • Never sign a contract until you talk to your insurance company.

One of the most important things to know is to never pay in full for repairs. If a contractor is pushing you to pay for everything upfront, tell them you are waiting on confirmation from your insurance company. Do not give them money.

If you have a local insurance agent, your next move after a storm hits and you ensure your family is safe should be to call their local office. There, they will have a list of reputable contractors in the area that they have worked with and recommend.

While you talk to them, they can go over important details like your deductible, your coverage limits, and if you take any pictures or videos, they can file them in their system while filing your claim.

As you assess your situation, it is important to take as many photos and videos as possible. This allows insurance companies to know for certain what kind of damage is there, and when adjusters meet you, they have a baseline to see what the damage is.

It is also important to make as many temporary repairs as possible to reduce the possibility of more damage that your insurance company may try to deny coverage for.

Tornado damage in Andover, KS (KSN photo / Andrea Herrera)

In addition to photos and videos, try to find as many receipts as possible to keep documentation handy on the things you own. If you made purchases online, take screenshots of the order, or a receipt emailed to you, and send them to your insurance company.

If you do not have a local agent, you can visit the Better Business Bureau’s website and find contractors that have high ratings. On their website, you can read business profiles and view their marketplace history.

To prepare for the next storm, the BBB recommends the following:

Take pictures/video of your business or home as a point of reference in the event of an emergency.

Back up critical digital files on a portable external hard drive and store it away from the office.

Properly anchor fuel and propane tanks, so they don’t float away in case of flooding. Also, ensure you keep your fuel levels full ahead of storms.

Have copies of your insurance policies on hand and have an electronic version available.

Collect family photos and other mementos in a centralized and easily accessible area, preferably in a watertight container.

Keep medicines together in a waterproof container.

Prepare an emergency kit with a change of clothes, weather appropriate footwear, flashlight, water, and battery or crank operated radio to monitor the weather without electricity.

Discuss your emergency plan with your family. Designate a “safe place” inside if you need to take shelter and a meeting place outside in case you have to evacuate.