Consumer Disaster Recovery Resources
If you’ve been affected by a disaster, the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance is sharing important resources to help you focus on recovery and rebuilding.
- Once urgent needs such as food, shelter, and safety are met, consider your financial obligations. Contact your insurance company, mortgage lender, credit card company, and other creditors to let them know about your situation. Most of them have ways to help. If you can’t live in your home, check with your utility companies to see if you can shut off services such as electric, gas, and cable in order to reduce expenses.
While many people seek to help during times of disaster, unfortunately there is also an increased risk for scams and fraud. Watch out for:
- Upfront fees to help you claim services, benefits, or get loans. No government agency charges application fees.
- Con artists posing as government employees, insurance adjusters, law enforcement officials, or bank employees. Confirm credentials by calling the agencies if necessary.
- Organizations with names similar to government agencies or charities.
- Limited time offers. Don’t be pressured to make a decision on the spot or to sign anything without having enough time to review it.
- Fake rental listings. If the offer sounds too good to be true or the property owner can’t show you the property beforehand, it’s a bad sign.
- Be wary of price gougers. Look for sudden, dramatic increases in the price of essential goods such as food, fuel, and lodging right before, during, or after a natural disaster. Complaints about price gouging can be filed with the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs at tn.gov/consumer.
If your car was submerged in at least a foot of standing water for more than an hour, have it checked out by a repair shop. Even if it runs, hidden damage could pose problems later on. If a disaster has left you in need of a new or used automobile, the Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission urges consumers to be wary of vehicle scams.
- Always buy from a licensed seller. Check a sales person’s license at verify.tn.gov before you buy.
- Do your due diligence before you buy. Research the car’s value. Take a test drive and get a vehicle history report at vehiclehistory.gov. If purchasing a used car, have an independent mechanic inspect the car.
- Get copies of all paperwork. Don’t leave without copies of everything that you signed.
- After a disaster, file your claim as soon as possible. Call your insurance company or agent with your policy number and other relevant information. Your policy may require that you make the notification within a certain time frame.
- Cooperate fully with the insurance company. Ask what documents, forms, and data you will need to file a claim. Keep notes detailing the name of the person you spoke with and the day, time and content of all conversations with insurance companies, creditors and relief agencies.
- Be certain to give your insurance company all the information they request. Giving partial information will only cause a delay or incomplete processing your claim.
- If your home is damaged to the extent that you cannot live there, ask your insurance company if you have coverage for additional living expenses.
- Document the disaster by taking photographs or video of any damage.
- Make the repairs necessary to prevent further damage to your property (cover broken windows, leaking roofs and damaged walls). Don’t have permanent repairs made until your insurance company has inspected the property and you have reached an agreement on the cost of repairs. Be prepared to provide the claims adjuster with record of any improvements you made prior to the damage.
- Maintain any damaged personal property for the adjuster to inspect.
- Ask the adjuster for an itemized explanation of the claim settlement offer.
- Save all receipts, including those from the temporary repairs covered by your policy.
- After a flood, consumers should always remember fire and electrical safety in their homes
- When flooding has occurred, certified electrical inspectors must conduct visual inspections of locations impacted by floodwaters to assess potential damage.
- Always have electrical work performed by a qualified, licensed electrician.
- After electricity has been restored, reconnect appliances and other electronics with caution. Ensure that the appliance did not suffer flood-related damage and that the power cord is not frayed.
- Never plug major appliances (like stoves, refrigerators, washers, or dryers) into an extension cord or power strip.
- Never use a gas generator inside your home, garage, carport basement, crawlspace or outside near a window, door or vent. A generator should only be used outdoors at least 15 feet away from buildings. It is dangerous to use a gas or kerosene heater inside a home or other building.
- Common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath and confusion. Many of these symptoms are similar to common colds or seasonal flu. Breathing high levels of carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness or even death.
- If carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected, turn off possible sources of the gas.
- Carbon monoxide detectors are important in protecting against CO poisoning, and are widely available at home and hardware stores. Carbon monoxide detectors can provide an early warning before the gas reaches a dangerous level.
- Before hiring a professional such as a contractor, consumers should first verify that the individual is properly licensed to work in Tennessee by visiting verify.tn.gov to conduct a license check.
- Ask questions and get references from people you trust. Consider searching the BBB’s website for ratings and reviews of contracting and repair companies.
- Avoid high pressure sales tactics urging you to act quickly before signing a contract. Take time to make a good decision.
- Be wary of contractors selling repairs door-to-door, especially when they ask to receive payment upfront or offer deep discounts.
- Get more than one bid and ask for at least three references. Ask for proof of necessary licenses, building permits, insurance, and bonding. Record the license plate number of the contractor.
- Generally, do not pay more than 1/3 of the cost upfront and make sure you have the terms of the payments to be made in writing.
- If a contractor promises you something, get it in writing.
- Keep a record of your property damage and any repairs made to your property.
- You should also take photos of any repair work you believe was not done correctly.
- If you can’t cover all of your expenses, contact your creditors to negotiate a payment plan.
- If you are dealing with a company or person who promises to remove debris from your property, ask them to list the services they will provide in writing. Ensure that your contract provides for you to make an inspection and approve the work before making the final payment.
TDCI licenses many of the professionals who play a role in rebuilding, including contractors, home inspectors, and insurance agents. If you witness unlicensed activity or other potential violations of laws and rules involving our licensees, visit tn.gov/commerce to file a complaint.
You're not alone, and neither are we.
Other community resources:
FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY (FEMA)/ NATIONAL FLOOD INSURANCE PROGRAM (NFIP)
U.S. SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION
Call 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or visit
www.sba.gov for disaster loan information for businesses, as well as homeowners and renters.
BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU
BBB of the Mid-South | (901) 759-1300
BBB of Middle Tennessee & Southern Kentucky | (615) 242-4222
BBB of Southeast Tennessee | (423) 266-0396
BBB of Greater East Tennessee | (865) 692-1600
TENNESSEE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE
(615) 741-3491 | https://www.tn.gov/attorneygeneral
TDCI INSURANCE DIVISION
(615) 741-2218 | https://www.tn.gov/commerce/insurance
TENNESSEE BOARD FOR LICENSING CONTRACTORS
(615) 741-8307 | www.tn.gov/commerce/regboards/contractors
TENNESSEE MOTOR VEHICLE COMMISSION
(615) 741-2711 | www.tn.gov/commerce/regboards/mvc
TENNESSEE DIVISION OF CONSUMER AFFAIRS
(615) 741-4737 | www.tn.gov/attorneygeneral/working-for-tennessee/consumer-affairs