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Protect yourself from post-storm scams, warns AG Cooper

Release date: 9/16/2005

Look out for hit and run scammers, price gouging following Hurricane Ophelia

Raleigh: Attorney General Roy Cooper today warned consumers to avoid scams that may follow in the wake of Hurricane Ophelia, which raked the North Carolina coast this week

“The last thing people who’ve been hit by a hurricane need is to be hit by scammers trying to make an unfair profit off of their suffering,” said Cooper. “Don’t let con artists take your money and run.”

The vast majority of contractors, tree removal companies and car repair shops in North Carolina are good business people, and many local merchants pitch in to help their community recover from disaster. However, some unscrupulous people travel to areas that have been hit by natural disasters to take advantage of consumers, Cooper warned. North Carolina residents can report scams and frauds to Cooper’s office by calling toll-free 1-877-5-NO-SCAM within the state.

Cooper offered the following tips to consumers:
 

• Be Safe. Do not attempt to move downed power lines. Call your utility company immediately for assistance.
 
• Contact your insurance company. Some insurance companies require an adjuster’s approval before work can be done. Take pictures and videos, if possible, of the damage. Cover holes in your roof or walls with a tarp if you can do so safely to prevent additional damage.
 
• Do not pay for work up front. Inspect the work and make sure you are satisfied before you pay. A reasonable down payment may be required for some projects, but don’t pay anything without getting a written contract. Avoid paying with cash; use a check or a credit card instead.
 
• Beware of any contractor who tries to rush you or who comes to your home offering assistance. If an offer is only good “now or never,” find someone else to perform the work. Seek recommendations from friends, neighbors, co-workers and others who have had work performed on their homes recently.
 
• Get three written estimates for the work, if possible, and compare bids. Check credentials and contact the Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau to learn about any complaints against the contractor. Before work beings, make sure you get a written contract detailing all the work to be performed, its costs and a completion date.
 
• For car repairs, shop around and compare written estimates. On major jobs, get a second opinion. If the mechanic recommends replacing parts, ask for the old parts. You may receive credit on some parts if the mechanic wants to keep them.
 
• Watch out for price gouging. Under North Carolina law, businesses are prohibited from charging unreasonably excessive prices for goods and services during a declared state of disaster. Under the law, the Attorney General’s Office can put a stop to price gouging and seek refunds for consumers who paid too much. The courts may also impose civil penalties against price gougers of up to $5,000 for each violation.
 
• Beware of charity scams that might use recent storms to make their phony pleas for donations sound more plausible. If a caller refuses to answer your questions about the charity, offers to come to pick up a donation in person or asks for a credit card, bank account or Social Security number, it may be a scam.

To report telemarketing fraud, call the Attorney General’s Office. To check up on a charity, call the Secretary of State’s office toll-free at (888) 830-4989.

 

“I want to make sure that storm victims get the help they need rather than being hurt again by scammers,” said Cooper. “If you believe that someone is trying to scam you or charge you more than a fair price following a disaster, let my office know about it.”