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Flood Victims: Beware Of Scam Artists

By Texas Attorney General Staff | May 18, 2004

Homeowners, businesses reporting suspicious activity in the wake of storms

AUSTIN - Attorney General Greg Abbott today alerted homeowners and businesses to be aware of scam artists who may attempt to exploit flood victims in the aftermath of fierce weekend storms plaguing Robertson and surrounding counties.

Four investigators with Attorney General Abbott’s office interviewed property owners in the area Sunday at the request of the Governor’s Division of Emergency Management after property owners complained scam artists had begun targeting disaster victims. Attorney General Abbott warned that his office will aggressively pursue unscrupulous businesses that commit fraud against these victims.

“I commend the county officials and Governor’s office for their quick action in helping the flood victims of this area,” said Abbott. “Residents and business owners who are attempting to rebuild their lives don’t need to be re-victimized by crooks looking turn a quick dollar with false promises and no guarantees,” he added.

When consumers turn to businesses for services to help in the clean-up and rebuilding process, they should consider these tips:

∙ Deal only with licensed or bonded contractors or builders.

∙Call your insurance adjuster to get an estimate of the damage and repair cost.

∙Be wary of contractors who solicit services door-to-door, especially those from another city or companies unfamiliar to you.

∙Get the salesperson’s license plate number.

∙Don’t be rushed into signing a contract, and never pay up-front for promised work.

∙Secure the terms of any warranty work in writing.

∙Ask for references, or rely on recommendations from friends or relatives who have had experience with honest contractors.

“The vast majority of Texas businesses faithfully follow the law, but consumers should also be aware that disasters are a prime opportunity for unscrupulous businesses to inflate prices or commit fraud,” said Abbott. “My office will aggressively pursue anyone who violates the law by exploiting victims in the wake of this disaster.”

Persons who believe they have been victimized may file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office by calling toll-free 800-252-8011, or file a complaint online at www.oag.state.tx.us and click on “Consumer Protection.”

A declaration of disaster, contingent upon a proclamation issued by the governor, triggers stiffer penalties under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act to include enforcement against price-gouging. These heightened enforcement penalties protect consumers against those who charge exorbitant fees for fuel, food, medicines, repair work or other necessities during and after disasters.