Pa. AG Warns Residents About Potential Scams After Issuance of Disaster Emergency Declaration

April 7, 2005

Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett is warning consumers to be on-the-lookout for potential flood related scams following the recent disaster emergency declaration in 10 Pennsylvania counties. The typical cons include fly-by-night contractors and bogus charitable appeals that claim to assist flood victims and their families.

“The flood season is here and that unfortunately sets the stage for con-artists to run their scams on consumers who may either be looking for home repairs right away or receptive to pleas for cash to help ‘so-called’ neighbors in need,” Corbett said. “Whatever the circumstance, I urge flood victims to be very cautious about the people they hire and those asking for money, realizing that unscrupulous individuals may be targeting you specifically.”

Corbett offered the following tips and advice to consumers located in Bradford, Bucks, Columbia, Erie, Luzerne, Monroe, Northampton, Pike, Wayne and Wyoming counties who may be seeking home repair work after the recent flooding:

– Beware of repair personnel who claim to be certified or affiliated with any state or federal emergency program.

– Do not allow a contractor, utility company or “inspector” into the home without confirming their identity.

– Contact one’s homeowners’ insurance agent to inspect the property to determine if the damage is covered by an existing policy.

– Get several estimates for the same work to avoid possible price gouging.

– Do not sign a contract for repairs until theinsurance company has agreed on the exact costs.

– Never agree to repairs until having a written contract stating the type and quality of work to be done, the costs for labor and supplies and a start and completion date for the project.

– Do not give a contractor a large down payment. In many instances, a down payment of one-third the total cost may be appropriate, with future payments due as the work progresses.

– Check county, city or local licensing rules or requirements for various contractors including plumbers or electricians.

– Never hire a contractor who doesn’t have a local business, phone number or address, or who refuses to provide references. Check customer satisfaction with the Better Business Bureau.

– Inquire about the contents of ‘disaster relief kits’ that are available for sale.

– Report any suspicious activity to the police or the Attorney General’s Office.

In addition, Corbett said be extremely cautious in hiring a contractor who is going door-to-door making an on-the-spot offer to repair one’s home or property right away at an unusually low cost. Reputable contractors will not pressure individuals to make an immediate decision or suggest that the job can be done without a written contract.

“My advice to homeowners is simple, rely on your common sense and give yourself time to make well thought out decisions,” Corbett said. “The biggest mistakes occur when homeowners rush into a repair contract because they’re under stress or pressure.”

Corbett said other flood related scams include bogus pleas for charitable donations to assist neighbors harmed by the disaster. Be careful donating to individuals seeking cash to help families who individuals are unaware of or who they cannot identify.

Also, if a solicitation is made on behalf of a well known charity, always check with the organization to ensure that it is in fact soliciting in the neighborhood. If a charity does not sound familiar, check its registration status by calling the Pennsylvania Department of State at 1-800-732-0999.

Consumers are also reminded that under Pennsylvania law car dealers are required to disclose if a vehicle incurred flood damage. Signs of flood damage include new carpet in an older model used vehicle, dirt or mud in air vents, musty or moldy smell and fluid contamination in oil or transmission containers. Consumers who suspect vehicle flood damage are urged to have their cars inspected by a reputable mechanic.

Flood victims seeking additional information are asked to call Corbett’s Bureau of Consumer Protection at 1-800-441-2555. Complaint forms are available by calling the number or visiting

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