Fla. AG Issues Tropical Storm Arlene Consumer Alert

June 14, 2005

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist has advised Floridians affected by Tropical Storm Arlene to use caution when hiring workers to help prepare for or clean up from the storm damage. Crist mobilized his office and staffed a toll-free hotline at 1-866-966-7226 to handle consumer calls over possible price gouging.

Crist recommended that citizens hire only reputable businesses for home preparation, repair or cleanup work and avoid paying with cash, especially before the work is completed.

“Governor Bush has declared a State of Emergency for the State of Florida due to Tropical Storm Arlene,” said Crist. “Merchants and businesses should help people prepare and recover from the storm, not take advantage of those in need. We will fight price gouging as aggressively as we did last year.”

Crist recommended that citizens who suspect they are being overcharged by contractors or businesses trying to cash in on Tropical Storm Arlene should call the toll-free price hotline.

The Attorney General provided a series of guidelines for consumers to protect themselves from unscrupulous contractors or businesses, particularly after the storm has hit, including:

– Do not pay cash to home repair contractors or tree removal services
– Require home repair contractors to obtain all necessary government licenses and permits, rather than leaving that burden on the consumer
– Make sure tree removal services have proper occupational licenses from the local county
– Work only with reputable, established businesses. Avoid “contractors” who knock on your door offering to fix your roof or windows. Try to obtain more than one estimate for the repair work.
– Before signing a contract, check the payment terms and other provisions carefully. Don’t pay a contractor in advance.

Crist also advised residents to report suspected cases of price gouging, which can carry stiff penalties following a gubernatorial declaration of a state of emergency. Criminal and civil investigators from the Attorney General’s Office will be mobilized statewide if necessary for a crackdown on price gouging on items that are in high demand following a hurricane such as food, water, hotels, ice, gasoline, lumber and generators.

Last year the Attorney General’s Office received a total of 8,911 complaints to its price gouging hotline and filed more than a dozen lawsuits over price gouging.

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