Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina attorney general issued a pre-storm warning Thursday to consumers to beware of repair scams and price gouging in the aftermath of Hanna, which is expected to hit the state sometime late Friday or early Saturday.
“We’re sending out a clear signal to price gougers that they’d better not try to use this storm as an excuse to make an unfair profit at consumers’ expense,” Attorney General Roy Cooper said.
State law gives the attorney general power to investigate potential price gouging in states of emergency and to 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.
Gov, Mike Easley declared the emergency Thursday.
Cooper admits the law serves as more of a deterrent than a readily used prosecutorial tool.
"During the last disaster, we got very little, if any complaints, about price gouging," he said.
Should Hanna, or any other tropical system, cause damage in North Carolina, Cooper also urges consumers to be wary of repair crews who show up uninvited. He advises consumers to get a written estimate for work and to never pay up front. (Read other advice from the attorney general.)
"These scammers sometimes crawl out from under rocks, and they take advantage of people in a number of ways," Cooper said. "Don't rush into something that could end up costing you in the end."
Cooper says the vast majority of contractors, tree removal companies and auto repair shops are legitimate, but scams are a reality. Scams can be reported to the Attorney General's Office by calling toll-free to 877-5-NO-SCAM.