As February approaches, Texas residents may be taking action to prepare for another possible winter storm, much like the one that shut down the state in 2021. Preparing for winter storms is a process that many Texans may be unfamiliar with, as winter temperatures in the Lone Star state typically average above the freezing threshold. However, consumers are taking the lessons learned in 2021 to heart and are preparing for worst-case scenarios by purchasing generators, hiring landscapers to manage tree limbs and winterizing their plumbing systems.
Scammers are also carrying out a series of cons focused on appealing toward the winter-wary consumer. In October 2021, one Texas resident reported to BBB Scam Tracker they encountered an online scam when attempting to purchase a solar generator advertised on Facebook to prepare for a possible repeat of February’s winter storm.
“I was first aware this was probably a scam when I got an order confirmation email from a Hotmail address and received no response when I requested to cancel the order,” the consumer reported. “The company provided a fake tracking number to PayPal when I disputed the charge, which showed the item was delivered the day after I placed the order. I will probably never receive reimbursement of my funds.”
While obtaining a generator is a good step in preparing for winter storms, there are many other considerations that Texas residents should take the time to address. According to FEMA, checking the condition of your home’s insulation, caulking and weather-stripping can help to keep the cold out and the heat in. It is also important to understand what winter weather alerts mean:
• Winter Storm Warning: Issued when hazardous winter weather in the form of heavy snow, heavy freezing rain or heavy sleet is imminent or occurring. Winter Storm Warning are usually issued 12 to 24 hours before the event is expected to begin.
• Winter Storm Watch: Alerts the public to the possibility of a blizzard, heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet. Winter Storm Watches are usually issued 12 to 48 hours before the beginning of a winter storm.
• Winter Weather Advisory: Issued for accumulations of snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle, and sleet which will cause significant inconveniences and, if caution is not exercised, could lead to life-threatening situations.
Better Business Bureau cautions Texas residents to carefully choose contractors to assist in winter storm preparations and to be wary of online purchases for winter-related equipment that seem too good to be true. Aggressive selling tactics, including the use of fear or coercion, are indications that either the company may not be legitimate or acting in the consumer’s interest.
“Businesses and individuals that use fear to sell products or services should be handled with extreme caution,” said Heather Massey, vice president of communications for Better Business Bureau serving the Heart of Texas. “While we all remember the dangers associated with being unprepared for a winter storm from last year’s experience, it is important not to rush purchasing or contracting decisions. Take the time to research the business or seller on BBB.org and other websites to determine if they are legitimate.”
To assist consumers in preparing for the possibility of a winter storm, BBB provides the following tips and information:
• Price gouging is illegal. The Office of the Attorney General has the authority to prosecute any business that engages in price gouging after the governor or president has declared a disaster. Price gouging is defined as selling or demanding an excessive price for fuel, food, medicine, lodging, building materials, construction tools, or another necessity. While businesses are allowed to determine the prices for their products, raising prices to take advantage of increased demand due to a disaster may indicate that price gouging has occurred. Consumers should report instances of price gouging to the Texas Attorney General.
• Winterizing your home. To properly winterize your home, it may take contracting the services of multiple trades and industries, such as plumbers, carpenters and landscapers. BBB recommends receiving an estimate for the work you need to be completed by at least three separate businesses and staggering payments throughout the length of the project. Be cautious of contractors that demand a large percentage of the total cost upfront or provide vague answers to your questions. Use BBB.org to find accredited businesses near your home. Low-income households in need of funds to winterize their homes can apply for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
• Use protected payment methods. Whether purchasing equipment online or contracting services, be cautious when interacting with businesses that demand payment by cash, wire transfer or mobile banking app. When possible, BBB recommends purchasing items with a credit card, which often offers a greater ability to dispute charges than a debit card. Be especially careful of businesses that offer their services after a disaster has occurred in your area, known as storm chasers, who only accept cash payments.
For more information on how to prepare for winter storms and recover, visit BBB.org/Winter.
If you’ve been a victim of a scam, report it to BBB Scam Tracker. Information provided may prevent another person from falling victim.