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Storm survivors: Don’t fall for scams

(WCAX)
Published: Aug. 11, 2020 at 1:56 PM CDT
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Springfield, Ill. (KWQC) -The Illinois Emergency Management Agency is warning those who have survived the most recent storms to be mindful of scams, which can present in a variety of ways.

According to a news release, the state of Illinois is working with local authorities to collect damage information to get to the next steps of recovery. During the process, local emergency managers will always carry official identification, and proper PPE, when visiting a home that sustained damage. Residents should always ask to see ID if they have any questions about the legitimacy of anyone who may approach them.

“It’s appalling that anyone would see this situation as an opportunity to scam others, but unfortunately this is something often seen after disasters,” said Alicia Tate-Nadeau, IEMA Director. “Everyone affected by these storms should be aware of this potential threat and take steps to protect their personal information.”

Other post-disaster scams include fraudulent housing inspectors, building contractors and donation solicitors. IEMA is working with the Attorney General’s office to warn residents in impacted areas to be on alert for scammers looking to exploit homeowners and business owners who may be in need of repairs from storm-related damage. Additionally, it’s important to never pre-pay for repair services, and remember -- if it’s too good to be true it probably is.

If you are contacted and suspect fraud, report the incident to your local law enforcement, or contact the Consumer Fraud Hotline at 1-800-243-0618.

Attorney General Tom Miller also warned Iowans about the potential for these scams.

“Contractors we call ‘storm chasers’ head to these areas to persuade storm victims to hire them on the spot for cleanup and repair work,” Miller said in a news release. “Homeowners must be prepared for these contractors’ pitches and promises.” 

The following are tips Miller provided in the news release:

  • Be wary of contractors who show up at your door. If at all possible, deal with an established and reputable local business. Try to deal with a local outfit even if it's not an established contractor. Avoid the hard sell.
  • Check out and interview contractors before you sign a contract or pay any money. Request local references and contact them, and research their ratings with the Better Business Bureau and other sites.
  • Get several written estimates, choose the best, and get a contract in writing (and don’t forget to read it!). Before work begins, agree on a written contract detailing terms including the work to be done, the brand and/or the specifications of the materials to be used, the price, who is responsible for permits, and that all change orders must be in writing. Put start and completion dates in writing, and the remedies if the contractor fails to meet them. (Example: The contract could be nullified if the contractor doesn’t start on time.)
  • Understand your insurance: If you’re filing an insurance claim to cover the costs of damages, negotiate the details with your insurance company directly and not through a contractor. Make sure your insurance provider will cover the cost of repairs before you sign a contract.
  • Explore financing options: It’s usually safer and a better deal to obtain financing through your local bank or credit union, rather than a contractor.
  • Know your right to cancel: If you sign a contract somewhere other than the contractor's regular place of business, such as at your home, you have three business days to cancel the contract without penalty.
  • Avoid paying large sums or the entire job up front.  If you need to make a partial advance payment for materials, make your check out to the supplier and the contractor. Insist on a "mechanic's lien waiver" in case the contractor fails to pay others for materials or labor.
  • Write down a license plate number and vehicle description, or take a picture of the vehicle and plate.  Keep this for your records.

You can visit www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov for more tips on preventing scams, and for more information on hiring contractors, price gouging and donation scams.

Copyright 2020 KWQC. All rights reserved.

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