CONSUMER ALERT: ESSENTIAL ADVICE FOR AFTER THE STORM
LITTLE ROCK – As Arkansans begin recovering from devastating storms, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued this consumer alert today with essential advice for storm victims as they recover and rebuild and for Arkansans who are seeking to help their friends and neighbors.
“Times like these bring out the best in most people, but, unfortunately, the worst in a few others,” McDaniel said. “As we unite to rebuild Mayflower and Vilonia and help our fellow Arkansans in need, we can all benefit by knowing how to protect ourselves against scams and fraud.”
McDaniel offered these tips for homeowners recovering from the storms, as well as other consumers who may need home repairs or debris-removal.
THREE TYPES OF CONTRACTORS TO AVOID
The Pay-Me-Now: This contractor will demand fees upfront and may never come back to finish the job. Never pay the full amount in advance for home repairs or tree-trimming service.
The Hire-Me-Now: Don’t fall for high-pressure sales tactics. These unscrupulous contractors will often go door-to-door talking about great deals for construction materials and other services, but “only for a limited time.” High-pressure sellers may offer a subpar product and subpar performance that reflects the subpar “special” price.
The Meet-Me-Now: Repairs from storm damage shouldn’t be left to someone a consumer has never heard of or never met. Before agreeing to let a random stranger do home repair or debris removal work, ask friends and family about the contractor’s reputation. Check with the Better Business Bureau or Arkansas Contractors Licensing Board.
FOUR TIPS FOR PROTECTING YOUR POCKETBOOK
1. Always get estimates. Following a storm, emergency repairs may be necessary. Even so, consumers are better off financially to take the time to compare prices from at least three contractors.
2. Put everything in writing. Insist on a written contract that outlines the price of the project, financing requirements, materials used and estimated completion date.
3. Get estimates for financing, too. If a construction or repair project must be financed, shop around for the best rates. Again, though it may take some time to find the right financial institution, it’s worthwhile in the long run to get a lower interest rate.
4. Don’t fall for “disaster loan” scams. Beware of anyone who seeks payment for filling out a disaster loan application or offers to arrange for financing for a fee.
In addition, McDaniel reminded consumers that Arkansas law prohibits price gouging during an emergency. The state price-gouging law remains in effect for 30 days after a declaration by local, state or federal authorities.
TWO THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT THE PRICE-GOUGING LAW
Prices can’t go up more than 10 percent, with a few exceptions. Businesses can exceed the 10-percent cap if their wholesale costs for labor and materials increase.
The law applies to most things needed in a state of emergency. This includes food, fuel, water, construction materials, flashlights, batteries, blankets and medical supplies.
Finally, the Attorney General said his Consumer Protection Division continues to receive calls about charitable donations in the aftermath of the storm. He encouraged consumers to support relief efforts, but to make sure their money is going to a reputable organization.
FOUR WAYS TO SPOT A CHARITY SCAM
1. Legitimate charities won’t pressure someone. Ask questions and give only when comfortable that a donation will be meaningful. Legitimate organizations will take the time to answer questions and send materials. Scammers just want money.
2. Legitimate charities won’t offer to send someone to pick up money. Reputable charities have addresses to which money can be mailed and they accept online credit-card donations. Scammers have been known to take direct, cash donations and never be seen again.
3. Legitimate charities won’t call to thank someone for a pledge they haven’t made. Con artists may try to convince consumers to give money by saying they had previously promised to make a pledge. Consumers who don’t remember a pledge should not feel compelled to give one to an unfamiliar entity.
4. Legitimate charities are registered with the Attorney General. If in doubt about an organization, visit www.ArkansasAG.gov to see if the charity is registered with the state. Aside from churches, almost all reputable charities must be registered with the Attorney General’s Office to do business in Arkansas.
For more information about these or any other consumer issues, or for assistance during recovery and rebuilding efforts, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division hotline at (800) 482-8982 or visit www.GotYourBackArkansas.org.