Officials are again warning homeowners this hurricane season to watch out for scammers, those bad actors who capitalize on tragedy and disorder following a storm.

They’re pointing to one cautionary tale in particular, of a law firm that ensnared thousands of Louisiana homeowners who sustained damage from serious storms that ravaged the coast in 2020 and 2021. Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta in 2020, and Ida in 2021, devastated coastal communities from New Orleans to Lake Charles. 

Then McClenny Moseley & Associates swept in. The Texas-based firm ran a sprawling operation that employed door-knocking and a mass-marketing campaign to represent homeowners on insurance claims for property damage, according to news reports. But as The Advocate reported, homeowners often didn’t know they were being represented by MMA, and the firm’s court filings were rife with issues.

Federal judges in Louisiana caught onto MMA’s actions, which had tied up claims for many, and set sanctions into motion. In March, the Louisiana Supreme Court suspended the law license of the McClenny Moseley attorney who ran the firm’s New Orleans office. And in May, the Louisiana Department of Insurance also issued $2 million in fines to the firm for unfair trade practices and insurance fraud.

Such problems are not limited to legal representation; hurricanes are inevitably followed by news stories about scams perpetrated by dishonest contractors and insurance adjusters as well. As Louisiana braces for another hurricane season, Verite spoke with experts and compiled tips for what homeowners can do to avoid such scams in the aftermath of a storm.

McClenny Moseley & Associates’ New Orleans office on St. Charles Avenue. Credit: Charles Maldonado / Verite

After a hurricane

Policyholders whose homes have sustained damage from a storm benefit from reaching out to an insurance agent or contractor and starting the claims process early, state Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon says.

Experts remind homeowners to be skeptical if they’re approached by an internet marketer or a cold-call solicitor offering to check for roof damage, and to keep an eye out for out-of-town storm chasers who might do shoddy roofing work in the aftermath of a storm.

The Federal Communications Commission also reminds people to avoid giving out personal information or agreeing to make payments if they get phone calls about insurance claims or policies. You shouldn’t give your policy numbers, coverage details, or other personal information to contractors and home improvement companies you haven’t contracted with, the FCC notes.

Homeowners should vet any potential contractors or lawyers they may hire to get through the repair and claims process. You can verify a contractor’s license with the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors via an online search platform, the agency’s app, or by texting 1-855-999-7896. 

“I would trust anyone who is a local contractor [or] roofer who’s been in the business for some time,” Donelon says. “Check them out with the [Better Business Bureau], and check to make sure that they have current license and insurance documentation before hiring them.”

Louisianians in need of an attorney might reach out to a local bar association, such as in New Orleans or Jefferson Parish, for a referral to a specialist, recommends Shermin Khan, a New Orleans-based attorney who has represented homeowners in the aftermath of hurricanes. 

Homeowners shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions of potential contractors or attorneys, Khan says. If a contractor who wants to repair your roof recommends an attorney to you, ask whether that contractor has a financial arrangement with the lawyer, for example. Khan also suggests obtaining a copy of your contractor’s license and a copy of their insurance declaration page.

You as a homeowner are entitled to know,” Khan says.

Homeowners should also be aware of what constitutes residential contractor fraud, and that there’s recourse for such fraud in Louisiana, which outlines criminal penalties in state law, Khan says. That includes contractors who take more than 45 days to finish a job after receiving payment (unless a longer work term is outlined in the contract) and contractors working without appropriate licenses.

Other resources

The Louisiana Department of Insurance has a guide to resources after a storm. The state insurance agency also offers an in-depth guide for policyholders on the catastrophic claim process.

The Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors has a guide to hiring a licensed contractor, including a list of scams and warning signs to watch out for, such as requiring unusually large down payments or verbal agreements. The Consumer Protection section of the state Attorney General’s office also has a guide on avoiding contractor fraud.

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Michelle previously worked for The Associated Press in South Carolina and was an inaugural corps member with the Report for America initiative. She also covered statewide criminal justice issues for Mississippi...