Texas AG Warns West Texans About Scams After Flooding

August 3, 2006

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott warned El Pasoans and other West Texas communities to be wary of fly-by-night contractors and other scam artists who might try to take advantage of homeowners and other consumers during the ongoing flooding and its aftermath, the AG’s office reported.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of West Texas and the challenges they face as many seek safety for their families and protection of their property,” Abbott said. “My office will move aggressively against anyone who seeks to make a fast buck by exploiting those who are now suffering and who in the coming days will be picking up the pieces the storms left behind.”

Attorney General Abbott praised those who are now helping less fortunate El Pasoans whose homes and businesses are flooded. However, he also pointed to the possibility of scams that, unfortunately, often appear during and shortly after a natural disaster. He offered consumers the following tips:

* Home repairs. Be wary of contractors who show up unexpectedly at your door and offer to do roof, drywall and other major repairs, especially if they are not from your community and low-ball their offer saying that they have material left over from a previous job and insist on being paid in cash and up front.

* You should first obtain bids in writing from several contractors and review each one carefully. Ask the contractor if they are covered through insurance or a bond, particularly if you hired them for a large project. You should also check with the city to make sure electricians and plumbers with whom you are considering a contract have the necessary license and have obtained the required permits.

* Get all terms in writing and do not sign a contract you do not understand or which has spaces left blank. Pay the contractor only as the work progresses, and do not sign a completion certificate until you are satisfied that all repairs were done properly. If the work is substantial, you might consider having an independent inspector look it over before you settle the bill with the contractor.

* Before hiring a contractor, contact city officials, the Better Business Bureau and the Office of the Attorney General to find out if consumers have filed complaints against them in the past.

* Charity scams. Be wary of telemarketers, solicitations by mail, or those who show up unexpectedly at your doorstep urging you to make an immediate donation to a charity with which you are not familiar and which supposedly will aid victims of the disaster. A legitimate charity will offer detailed information in writing about how your money will be used and will give you the time you need to make your decision.

* Be particularly suspicious of solicitors who are long on emotion but short on detail about how your donation will be put to use. Always make the donation using a check or money order made out to the charity, and be wary of organizations with names that are very similar but not identical to those of a recognized charity.

* Flood damaged cars. Often, flood damaged cars are written off as totaled by insurance companies and are destined to be used as scrap. However, scam artists regularly purchase these vehicles, do some engine repairs and refurbish the interior, and offer them for sale without disclosing the serious damage caused when they were submerged. These vehicles can be very dangerous to drive. In the coming months, El Pasoans should be particularly careful when purchasing used cars and should have a trusted mechanic inspect the vehicle before signing a contract and paying any money.

Additional information to help consumers protect themselves against these and other scams that might appear after a storm is available on the Attorney General’s Web site at www.oag.state.tx.us or by calling 1 (800) 252-8011. The information is available in English and Spanish.

Consumers should also call the hotline to report any suspicious activity that appears aimed at trying to take advantage of El Paso consumers.

Source: Texas Attorney General’s Office

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