AUBURN, Ala. – Minutes stretch to hours as storm victims and volunteers work through the rubble and the mess to recover family heirlooms, items of clothing and other belongings. In these same hours, scam artists are devising recovery scams to swindle storm victims out of money.
Storm victims want to get work done quickly and get their lives back to normal, but this opens the door to scam artists who are waiting to profit from victims’ misfortune.
Scam artists may use price gouging, home-repair or tree services and even charities to get your money during these times, said Isaac Chappell, an Alabama Extension human sciences regional agent.
Take Pictures of Damage
“Before hiring anyone to make repairs, take pictures of the damage to your home and possessions. Take photos before any work is done,” Chappell said. “They provide evidence of the damage for insurance purposes.”
Next, check with your insurance company and talk with an adjuster about filing claims. With the vast amount of damage caused by the recent storm, it may take a while before an insurance adjuster can reach you.
Get Several Estimates for Repairs
“Be wary of strangers who drive up and offer to help with home repairs or tree removal for a fee,” Chappell said.
It’s best to get several estimates for repairs even if it takes a little longer.
Never Pay in Advance
Never pay in advance for repair work. Get a contract in writing for the work to be done. Both parties should sign the contract. When hiring an individual, ask to see identification. This may include a driver’s license with address and phone number, a current business license and/or Social Security card. Write down all of the information on these cards.
Homeowners may even want to call the Better Business Bureau to be sure there are no recorded complaints. If the person is legitimate, a contract should be readily available. Thus, they should not appear hesitant to sign one you both agree to.
Scammers also use telephone scams to collect easy money.
“Don’t buy or agree to pay money over the phone to people offering repairs or to those collecting money for storm victims,” Chappell said.
He said the same is true for people appearing at your door collecting money.
“Don’t agree to give them money or give them your credit card numbers. Get a name and number. You may call them back after you have checked their legitimacy with Better Business Bureau or your state attorney general’s office. Always check and be safe rather than not check and be sorry, even if they say they are from a known charity,“ Chappell said.
Price gouging is illegal anytime the governor declares a state of emergency. Merchants or individuals cannot charge any more for their products after a state of emergency has been declared than they did before the declaration. Thus, violations of price gouging laws carry criminal penalties, including a possible prison sentence.