Hole in roof from September 15, 2010 hail, near Maize and Kellogg.
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Friday, September 17, 2010
Attorney General Steve Six today warned Kansans to be wary as they begin the clean-up and rebuilding process following the recent severe weather that damaged South Central Kansas communities. In the coming days, the Attorney General’s office expects an unwelcome increase in the number of transient roofers and contractors attempting to scam Kansans by taking money out of their wallets and out of their insurance claims.
“Unfortunately, when severe weather causes widespread damage in our state, we often find that the storms are followed by widespread reports of fraudulent contractors,” said Attorney General Six. “I encourage consumers to follow some simple tips to keep themselves safe from fraud. I am also issuing a warning to those who see storm damage as an opportunity to scam Kansans – if you are breaking the law to make the sale, we will come after you.”
Six encourages everyone in storm ravaged areas to be aware that some businesses may come to Kansas with the intention not to help rebuild but to help themselves to Kansans’ money. He also reminds businesses that the Attorney General’s Office and local law enforcement will be paying close attention to all complaints of price gouging.
“Individuals who make phony claims about their ability to repair damage caused by storms don’t just harm consumers, they harm the honest businesses in Kansas who have built their reputations over time,” Six said. “Remember – if you are approached at your home with an offer that seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Don’t sign a contract, and contact our office or local authorities.”
If consumers need assistance, contact the Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection at 785-296-3751 or 1-800-432-2310. Or visit our website for additional consumer tips: www.ksag.org.
Consumers in Sedgwick County can contact the Sedgwick County District Attorney at (800) 432-6878 or the Consumer Fraud division at (316) 660-3653.
Following are several tips regarding the most common scams following a weather disaster:
Home Repair Rip-Offs:
A few simple tips to help protect consumers from con artists looking to take advantage of vulnerable homeowners:
- Do not allow a contractor, utility company or “inspector” into your home without verifying their identity.
- Contact your homeowner’s insurance agent to inspect your property to determine if the damage is covered by your existing policy.
- Do not sign a contract for repairs until you and your insurance agent have agreed on the exact costs.
- Avoid price gouging by obtaining several estimates for the work that needs to be done.
- Never agree to repairs until you have a written contract stating the type and quality of work to be done, the cost of the labor and supplies and a start and end date for the project.
- Do not give a contractor a huge down payment. A typical down payment is one-third the total coast with future payments as work is completed.
- Make sure the contractor you hire has a local business or phone number. Contact your local Better Business Bureau to check their customer satisfaction rating. Remember that just because there are no complaints against a company there is no guarantee that the company is legitimate, especially if the business is very new or from a different area.
- Beware of excessive prices, but also be aware that prices too far below the estimates of other contractors may also signal a scam. These companies may offer reasons such as “leftover” materials from other work as justification for their below-market prices, but may instead simply provide shoddy work using sub grade materials.
Tips to Avoid Door-to-Door Merchants or Scams:
Unfortunately, media coverage of a severe storms often brings fraudulent salesmen and other con artists to a community. As you begin the cleanup process, watch out for these signs of potential scams:
- Out-of-state vehicle tags. It is best to deal only with local, reputable businesses. When hiring a contractor from out-of-state, ask to see their Transient Merchant’s License. If a merchant with out-of-state tags is unwilling to show this, do not do business with them.
- Magnetic signs on the side of work vehicles. Temporary signs like these usually contain no permanent business address, often listing only a cellular phone number. Use caution with these businesses. They may be hard to locate once your job is finished.
- Unverified physical address. A reputable business will list their physical address on business cards, quotes and any other paperwork you receive. Use caution with companies who only list a P.O. Box or phone number.
- Work vehicles that have seen little work. Vehicles that look rarely used are a clue to be wary. Successful con artists can keep their trucks nice and new because they never come through with the work they are hired to do.
- Estimates that seem “too good to be true.” Scam artists often quote low, only to inflate the price once the bill is tendered. Be wary of estimates that only take into account square footage or other size estimates. Reputable contractors will provide solid estimates containing the amount of materials to be used.
- Uninvited solicitations. Con men are notorious for soliciting jobs door-to-door by stating that they have left over materials that allow them to do the job for half the price. When you hear such a line, realize you are probably dealing with a transient merchant and will likely regret the “deal” after it is done.
Tips to Keep in Mind After Severe Weather Hits:
- Offers to remove debris may only remove your money. Be wary of offers to remove debris upon the receipt of a cash deposit. Scam artists often unload the debris only a short distance away. Their actions may result in you being responsible for illegal dumping.
- Do not pay by cash or money order. Established businesses will welcome payment by credit card or personal check. These forms of payment are your proof should a dispute arise.
- Do not hire anyone before speaking with your insurance adjuster. Your insurance company is your first line of defense against scam artists. Try to work out repairs and receive recommendations from your insurance adjuster after filing your claim. The Kansas Insurance Commissioner is available to assist policyholders with insurance disputes and may be reached at (800) 432-2484.
- Be suspicious of offers to assist in the filing of insurance. Scam artists may use this line to gain access to your Social Security number and other personal information. Obtaining this information allows them to file illegal claims against your homeowner’s insurance and commit other forms of identity theft.
- Notify your local law enforcement and the Kansas Attorney General’s Office. If you suspect that scam artists are working in your area, try to obtain tag numbers, make and model of vehicles, as well as the names and telephone numbers of individuals involved. Contact information of victims, contracts or promotional materials may also prove helpful.
If consumers need further assistance, contact the Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection at 785-296-3751 or 1-800-432-2310. Or visit our website for additional consumer tips: www.ksag.org.