Damage from storms brings out swarms of crooked contractors
The Japanese word “yakebutori,” which means to prosper after a destructive fire, can be used figuratively to mean profiting from the misfortunes of others.
Between the typhoons and the tornadoes, ill winds have indeed been blowing across the Japanese archipelago these past several months. As if the damages from meteorological phenomena haven’t been bad enough, Nikkan Gendai (Oct 1) warns readers about another type of pestilence that has descended as a result: swindlers who offer to repair the damage.
A standard approach might be a telephone call to a home owner asking, “Has your house suffered any damage due to typhoons or tornadoes?”
That’s what happened to a 70-year-old man residing in the northern part of the Kanto area three days after a large typhoon hit the area.
“He said that some of my roof tiles had been stripped off by the winds,” the man said. “He also told me, ‘Your home’s fire insurance policy will cover the needed repairs,’ and that he would produce an estimate for the job and take care of the necessary insurance paperwork.”
“His showing up when he did seemed like a godsend, so I went ahead with the request, and the next day he returned with a contract. But I had second thoughts and decided to use a local repairman. When I told him the deal was off, he told me that I owe him half the 600,000 yen that was to be claimed to the insurance company, since I had voided the terms of the contract.”
According to the Consumer Affairs Center of Japan, the number of consultations involving similar claims more than doubled, from 252 in 2011 to 521 last year. And this year the figure is on track to pass 2012.
Most of the claims came from elderly people, particularly those in their 60s and 70s.
“While fire insurance has the image of limiting coverage to fire damage to a residence, in many cases the policy extends to damage caused by tornadoes or lightning, heavy rains and so on,” says a spokesperson for the Consumer Affairs Center. “But some policy holders are not aware of this and are being visited by contractors who offer to make the repairs, by assuring them their insurance will pay for it. But the real scam is to inflate the price of the repair contract and then demand compensation when the homeowner tries to get out of the contract.”
Many of these operators, warns Nikkan Gendai, use nonexistent addresses on their estimate forms and business cards, making them impossible to track down.
And because they often pad their charges with additional, unnecessary repairs, insurance companies tend to balk at payouts. Another swindling technique is to demand half of the repair costs in advance and then make shoddy or desultory repairs.
One common technique these crooks often use to put their victims off guard is to adopt a company name that closely resembles that of a well-reputed construction firm.
“Contacting an insurance firm should always be done by the policy holder himself,” the aforementioned consumer center’s spokesperson advises. “Also, it’s a good idea for householders to request estimates from more than one operator.”
In addition, the man mentioned at the start of the article would have been entirely within his rights to invoke the 8-day “clearing off” period specified in the law governing door-to-door sales solicitations, during which time contracts can be voided without penalties. The law also gives him the right to claim a refund for any monetary deposits up front within the 8-day period.
The contractor firms who solicit business without also informing potential clients of this law, Nikkan Gendai writes, “might just as well as be considered swindlers.”