Weather

Attorney General warns against storm-related scams

Posted April 18, 2011
Updated April 19, 2011

— Attorney General Roy Cooper warned consumers on Monday to watch out for scams related to the tornadoes and storms that swept through the state on Saturday.

“Scammers use natural disasters and other tragedies to prey on desperate, unsuspecting victims,” Cooper said in a press release. “Don’t let con artists use this storm to take your money and run.”

While the vast majority of contractors, tree removal companies and car repair shops in North Carolina are good business people, Cooper said, some unscrupulous people travel to areas that have been hit by natural disasters to take advantage of consumers.

North Carolina residents should report scams and fraud to Cooper’s office by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM within the state or by filing a consumer complaint online.

Cooper offered these tips: 

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 beings, make sure you get a written contract detailing all the work to be performed, its costs and a projected 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.
  • 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. To check up on a charity, call the Secretary of State’s office toll free at 1-888-830 4989.

Cooper also said Monday that his office is now authorized to investigate allegations of price gouging in the 18 counties and cities where states of emergencies have been declared.

Those counties/cities are: Bertie, Bladen, Cumberland, Greene, Halifax, Harnett, Hoke, Johnston, Lee, Onslow, Pender, Pitt, Robeson, Sampson, Wake and Wilson counties; and the cities of Dunn and Farmville.

WRAL 5 On Your Side Price gouging law in effect

Price gouging – or charging an unreasonably excessive amount in times of crisis – is against North Carolina law when a disaster, an emergency or an abnormal market disruption for critical goods and services is declared by the governor or local governments. The law also applies to all levels of the supply chain from the manufacturer to the distributor to the retailer.

To report price gouging, call the Consumer Protection Division at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM (toll-free within North Carolina) or by fill out a price gouging complaint form online.

8 Comments

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  • htomc42 Apr 20, 2011

    Prohibition against "price gouging" is the perfect way to guarantee that none of the items will be available to anyone, at any price. To expect demand to skyrocket while holding prices static, without it affecting supply, is pure folly.

  • superman Apr 19, 2011

    People just need to use some commong sense. Think before you jump into something you cant jump out of. If the work is not a real emergency such as the roof off your house--take your time. Trees in your yard or big limbs certainly is a problem but just take your time. Tree Removal is pretty expensive even in good times so dont expect them to reduce their rates now.

  • babedan Apr 19, 2011

    drier, how it the AG supposed to help? He issued the warning so people don't get scammed, and it's also a warning to those who may try to scam you. You want help, then help yourself. There are many around helping others, but then again it appears you want something for nothing. This warning is appropriate.

  • Shamrock Apr 18, 2011

    "Either he can dig in or shut up." Gertrude

    I think that should apply to everyone.

  • Bring on the 4 Dollar Gas Apr 18, 2011

    Tell him we don't need his warnings, stuff most people can figure out on their own, we need hands and help. Either he can dig in or shut up.

  • pbjbeach Apr 18, 2011

    Question?

    Why doesnt mr cooper put a complete stop to the mismanagament of taxpayers fund from within the nc department of transportation once an fopr all an stop theese overpayment to contracting enitys that are supposley charged with an thru contracts to the taxpayers of north carolina to do an perform as per the state specefications say these state contrtacts are too be carried out for the complete protection of the states taxpayers an theiir total instrest an not for the instrest of these contractros an supposley vendors contracted to the ncdot to do the peoples business an protect their instrest without any form of regards to the contracting enitys/ business there is outright fruad within the ncdot an there needs to be astope put to oit by the attorneyys generaal office within the states highway buliding within downtown raleigh thank you

  • foleykathatar Apr 18, 2011

    How sad is it that this has to be in the news just days after such a tragic event?

  • airbornemonty Apr 18, 2011

    I have never paid up front on any kind of work to my home. If a contractor asked for a down payment, I would simply find one that doesn't.

    I've had pine trees cut down in the past plus a new roof and I have never had the contractor ask for a full or partial payment before he finished the work.

    But like I have just said, if one asked me for money before beginning the work, I'll go and find one that doesn't require a payment until the work is complete.