The 2013 hurricane season, which starts June 1, is expected to be an above-average, active season, according to several seasonal reports. Attorney General Buddy Caldwell urges citizens to make necessary preparations well in advance.
“As hurricane season quickly approaches, I encourage all Louisiana citizens to prepare now for the possibility of a storm,” said Attorney General Caldwell. “Unfortunately, hurricane season is also a time in which unscrupulous con-artists try to capitalize on your misfortune.”
Caldwell says fraud and scams often follow a natural disaster. He reminds residents to take precautions to safeguard personal documents and other important information.
“Often in the wake of natural disasters, papers containing personally identifiable information are misplaced or fall into the wrong hands, complicating the recovery process and putting citizens at risk for identity theft,” Caldwell said.
Additionally, during any declared state of emergency, Louisiana laws against price gouging go into effect. The price gouging statutes prohibit the raising of prices above the pre-emergency levels unless there is a verifiable price change attributable to national or regional market changes or commodity shortage.
Consumers can learn more about protecting themselves from various types of fraud by visiting www.agbuddycaldwell.com. Price gouging should be reported to local law enforcement officials, the district attorney, or the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office.
Information about Scams
The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office wants you to be aware of the following disaster-related consumer scams:
If your home is damaged by a natural disaster, you will most likely be in the market for a reputable and qualified contractor. Even in such a situation as a disaster, it is still important to obtain more than one estimate for repairs and to check on the qualifications and credentials of anyone working on your home. You can contact local consumer agencies for reviews, and contact the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors at 800-256-1392 to make sure the contractor is licensed or registered and to see if the contractor has any complaints or violations on record. Find out the contractor’s address and verify it. Get the name of the contractor’s insurance company. You will also want to ask for references of satisfied customers and contact those individuals to examine the work done. Where a down payment is required, it should not exceed 10% of the total price. Always get a guarantee in writing and keep a signed, legible copy of the contract in a safe place. Pay by check or money order and keep all receipts.
Phony Disaster Relief Officials
Scammers take advantage of disaster victims by posing as government agency employees or insurance adjusters. In the process of interviewing the victims, they request personally identifiable information, such as Social Security numbers and bank information in order to steal their identity. If you are a disaster victim, you must confirm the identity of anyone who contacts you purporting to be from a governmental agency or insurance company. Ask for details in writing and be wary when the term “government approved” is used. Do not give out any information until you have checked them out by contacting the actual agency or insurance company that they claim to represent.
In the last few years, the widespread use of social media provides fertile ground for scammers to exploit the generosity of Louisiana citizens wishing to donate to the victims of natural disasters by almost instantly creating the look and mission statement of a legitimate disaster-relief campaign. Use caution before giving credit card numbers over the phone or online. If you’re not sure whether a charity is legitimate, check up on charities by going to www.guidestar.org to find out if the charity is actually an IRS 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization. Contact the Attorney General’s Charitable Registration section, the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Corporations Database and the Better Business Bureau before you donate. Be skeptical of unsolicited email requests for donations, even if they appear to be from a legitimate charity. Many charities, including the Red Cross, do not typically ask you for donations through e-mail; instead go to the actual website in your browser to make a donation. Never give your personal information in an e-mail. Make your check payable to the organization, never to an individual. Choose established charitable organizations that have a history of assisting in disasters. Be careful of similar-sounding names. Fraudulent charities may use names that closely resemble the name of established, legitimate charitable organizations.
To report contractor fraud, charity scams or other consumer related scams, contact the Louisiana Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-351-4889.