The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Danville News

May 28, 2014

Insurer: Beware offers that are too good to be true

MAHONING TWP. — Insurance company owner Pam Stetler cautions people with hail storm damage that “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

“In many situations, people don’t know what to do — especially older people,” she said.

The first thing people with damaged vehicles or homes or both need to do is file a claim, said Stetler, owner of Stetler Insurance which mostly handles Erie Insurance.

“Call your local agent if you have one. Almost all companies have an 800 number for claims. Most claims can be filed online,” she said.

Next people should be contacted by a claims adjuster who will direct them to the next step in the process. “If they don’t hear within a week, they should follow up,” she said.

She said it’s important for people to provide more than one phone number so an adjuster can reach them. “If they don’t hear within a week, there’s something wrong,” said Stetler who has been in the insurance business 20 years.

“This is the worst situation we have ever had, by far, hands down,” she said of Thursday’s hail storm.

Her insurance agency building, along Bloom Road, had damage to the back siding. Hail drove a hole through the cap on railing in the back of the building.

Stelter’s car was dented and her front windshield has a crack. Charlotte Stetler, her mother had her car windshield shattered.

Storms also struck Berks County, Stetler said. She was told Erie had 5,000 claims for damage to autos filed in Montour and Berks counties as of Monday. She didn’t have a count on damage claims for homes.

She cautioned about “storm chasers” in Mahoning Township neighborhoods. “They are going door-to door,” she said.

“They are telling people the can take care of the damage, will work it out with the adjuster and they will take care of everything for them,” she said.

“In the past, they have used inferior quality materials, especially on roofs,” she said.

“If people have a problem down the road, they will never come back to fix the problem,” she said.

She said residents should ask to see if the person soliciting for business has a permit.

There’s a possibility out-of-town or out-of-state contractors could bring in illegal workers, she said.

“I strongly encourage using local contractors. If people have a problem six months down the road, they can call and the contractor will come back,” she said.

In some instances, people soliciting business have told victims to sign their insurance check over. “Do not do that and don’t pay the full amount — maybe a deposit,” she said.

Stetler asks people to use common sense and “to go with their gut instinct.”

Claims related to last week’s storm are still coming in to her office.

She encourages people to be patient and said getting estimates for home damage will probably take longer than for vehicle damage because the adjuster has to schedule an appointment to come to the home and meet with the owner. “They have to go out and inspect and go up on the roof,” she said.

Montour County District Attorney Rebecca Warren also warned residents that contractors doing business in Pennsylvania are required to register with the attorney general’s bureau of consumer protection.

Contracts are to be in writing and contain certain specific information including the approximate start date, completion date, description of work and total price. All parties must sign in order for the contract to be valid and the homeowner must be provided a complete copy, she said.

Homeowners generally have the right to cancel any contract within three business days of signing, she said.

Mahoning Township police have encountered contractors from outside the area, as far as Ohio and Connecticut.

Some didn’t have permits to solicit work in the township. The police informed them they needed a permit and all but one had obtained a permit as of Monday afternoon.

Montour County Emergency Management Agency Director Walt Peters said the county is looking into loans for storm victims.

“There would have to be 40 percent of uninsured damage to homes, businesses and vehicles” in order to qualify for federal loans from the Small Business Administration, he said.

He said he hasn’t received any requests from residents for assistance at this point.

If that 40 percent was met, he said the SBA would come in and do an assessment of the damage.

At Hawkins Collision Center, insurance companies have set up tents where adjusters are scheduling appointments to meet with people whose vehicles were damaged.

At least 70 vehicles have been dropped off for work. Companies from outside the area will repair dents and replace windshields, said assistant office manager Mandy Horky.

At Swartz Ultimate Collision Repair, a spokeswoman said more than 70 vehicles were on their lot with more expected. Insurance representatives were meeting with policy holders at a tent and Erie Insurance’s mobile unit was there.

At Jack Metzer Auto Group where nearly 200 vehicles on the lot and vehicles owned by customers were damaged, President Bob Metzer said they hope to sell as many vehicles as they can at a discounted price. He hasn’t received a damage estimate.

Hundreds of vehicles were also damaged in Geisinger Medical Center parking lots on the main campus, Woodbine Lane and Justin Drive.

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