The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) has warned customers about disaster chasers door-knocking damaged homes to exploit households impacted by the recent destructive winds, rain, and floods in Victoria.
The ICA found that disaster chasers are offering tree and debris removal to be paid upfront in cash. However, they leave without doing the work, or the work is poorly done or incomplete. Some also offer to undertake home inspections or repairs for cash.
The peak body warned homeowners that these operators might not have a building license, trade qualifications, professional indemnity insurance, or an ABN. In the past, some disaster chasers allegedly used standover tactics to demand money and falsely claimed that an insurer sent them.
Moreover, some disaster chasers allegedly pressure homeowners to sign a contract for repair work on the spot and promise that the insurer will pay for all the work, leaving policyholders with an inflated bill or commission to pay because insurers will only pay for approved work covered by a policy.
The ICA is urging its customers to identify and report disaster chasers to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) or the police, particularly if they threaten, harass, or intimidate anyone.
Homeowners can identify and deal with disaster chasers by taking note that:
- An insurer will not send a tradesperson or builder to your home without notifying you and providing details.
- You must speak to your insurer before agreeing to any repairs or rebuilding work to ensure that your insurer will cover the work.
- A tradesperson or builder working for your insurer will not ask you for payment.
- If in doubt, ask for identification such as a builder’s license or driver’s license, then call your insurer to check.
- If you sign a contract with a disaster chaser, you have a statutory 10-day cooling-off period. Your insurer can help you end the relationship with the disaster chaser.
ICA chief executive officer Andrew Hall said disaster chasers can emerge soon after a natural disaster and target affected households.
“They can leave families, the elderly, and vulnerable Australians much worse off, with large bills and homes that remain badly damaged,” Hall said. “The ICA urges anyone who is approached by a disaster chaser to call the relevant authorities.”
As of this writing, insurers had received over 15,700 claims from the recent storms and flooding in Victoria, with an estimated cost of $144 million. With several areas still inaccessible to assessors, insurers expect claims to rise in the coming days.