Monday, June 3, 2013

Attorney General Koster warns consumers to watch out for scams following the tornados in the St. Louis metropolitan area

                                                                                                   June 3, 2013
                                                                 (Official press release Missouri Chris Kosters office)

Jefferson City, MO. – Attorney General Koster today cautioned Missourians to be on the alert for "storm-chasers" -- companies that follow severe weather and try to contract with homeowners who have suffered storm or tornado damage to provide tree-trimming, roofing and other repair services.  Storm chasers typically go door-to-door claiming they specialize in home repairs.

Koster warned consumers that some storm-chasers will ask them to sign a contract allowing their company to negotiate with the homeowner’s insurance company.  He said they generally use high-pressure sales tactics, ask for cash up front, may have out-of-state drivers licenses or plates, be unable to produce local references, and have no proof of worker’s compensation insurance.  Often, they perform little to no work, provide shoddy work, overcharge the consumer, and then leave the homeowner with little or no recourse.
"Storm-chasers prey on consumers who are vulnerable following destruction to their properties,” Koster said.  “Senior citizens and disabled individuals are particularly at risk because they may be unable to assess the damage to their homes."
Koster offered the following tips for consumers to avoid being scammed by storm-chasers:
  • Beware of contractors who suddenly appear at your door.  Make sure they can provide permits and proof of identification.
  • Do not fall for high-pressure sales tactics.  Do not feel rushed to enter into a contract until you research the company.
  • Beware of any contractor who tries to rush you or who comes to your home to solicit work. 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.
  • 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 begins, make sure you get a written contract detailing all the work to be performed, its costs and a projected completion date.
  • 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.
  • Ask for references and check them out.
  • Make sure the workers are bonded and insured.  Make them provide proof and that their insurance is current.
  • Document in writing the scope of the work to be done and the complete cost and time necessary to complete the job and how payment will be handled.
Other tips for after staying safe after a storm include:
  • Beware of fake disaster officials. This is a common ploy for burglars or people pushing expensive or unnecessary repairs. Ask for identification for anyone who claims to be a government official.
  • Contact your insurance company. Some insurance companies require an adjuster’s approval before work can be done. Take pictures and videos of the damage, if possible. Cover holes in your roof or walls with a tarp to prevent additional damage if you can do so safely.
  • Watch out for brokers who promise so-called “guaranteed” loans from FEMA, especially if they ask for an upfront payment. FEMA does not charge an application fee. Verify the credentials of people offering low-interest government loans, and contact the agency directly to verify the person’s employment.
  • 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.
  • Beware of charity scams that 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 calls you and 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.
  • Beware of price gouging.  Missouri law is clear – price gouging is illegal and the Attorney General’s office will investigate and prosecute price-gouging instances to the full extent of the law.  Any person who believes a business has suddenly and artificially raised the prices on necessities including gas, food, clean-up, equipment, etc., should contact the Consumer Protection Hotline or file the complaint online.
To report storm-chasers to the Attorney General’s Office, please contact our Consumer Protection Division at 800-392-8222.

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