Okla. AG Warns of Fraud After Fires

January 4, 2006

Attorney General Drew Edmondson is warning Oklahomans who lost homes and other property in recent wildfires to beware of being victimized again, this time by fraud. More than 200 homes and businesses have been destroyed by wildfires over the past 12 months.

“Losing your home and all of your possessions in a fire is tragic,” Edmondson said. “But when you are targeted by some shady character looking to make a quick buck, that’s criminal.”

Edmondson said the task of rebuilding and repairing, whether from a complete loss or just minor damage, can be stressful and expensive.

“I can understand the desire to get the work started quickly, but haste can cause problems of its own,” Edmondson said. “Take the time to protect yourself before starting any contract work.”

The attorney general warned Oklahomans to be alert for several clues that might indicate a less-than-reputable contractor. He said to be wary of any contractor who solicits door-to-door, offers you discounts for finding other customers or “just happens to have” materials left over from a previous job. Also, be suspicious of a contractor who accepts only cash payments, pressures you for an immediate decision or asks you to pay for the entire job up-front.

Edmondson provided the following tips for hiring a contractor:

–Ask people you trust for contractor referrals.
–Whenever possible, deal with local firms with roots in the community.
–Find out if there are any complaints against the contractor on file with the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Unit or the Better Business Bureau.
–Ask the contractor for customer references.
–Get written estimates from several firms.
–Don’t do business without a written contract.
–Get all guarantees, warranties and promises in writing.
–Agree on start and completion dates and have them written into the contract.

The attorney general also has a fraud warning for those looking to help the victims of these wildfires.

“We see it time and again when disaster strikes, Oklahomans help out their neighbors,” Edmondson said. “I know there will be charity campaigns to help the victims get through these next few months and I hope Oklahomans will give generously. Just make sure you know where your money is going. Give it to the needy, not to the greedy.”

The attorney general said his office stands ready to investigate any reports of wildfire-related fraud, whether it be home repair fraud or charity fraud.

Edmondson’s Consumer Protection Unit has statewide jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute violations of the state’s Consumer Protection Act. Anyone with information regarding suspected fraud or scams can contact the attorney general’s consumer protection hotline at (405) 521-2029.

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