Extension, AG warn storm victims to be aware of scams

Date posted: April 21, 2011

We see the best in people in the aftermath of a disaster in offers of aid to those who have suffered losses. But we also see the worst in people in attempts to take advantage of the victims of disaster.

Victims of the tornadoes that tore through North Carolina should be aware of scams and con artists in the aftermath of the storms. Cooperative Extension is working with the state Attorney General’s office to raise awareness among people who suffered storm damage.

A guide to avoiding consumer fraud is available on Cooperative Extension’s Disaster resource page. Those without Internet access can request a copy from their local Cooperative Extension center.

Dr. Carolyn Bird, Extension family resource management specialist, says that older adults are often targeted by scam artists. “Older adults tend to be trusting, and scam artists take advantage of that,” she said.

She suggests that family members who have older relatives facing serious storm damage try to, “be part of the conversation as their family members recover.” Older adults living alone lack a “second voice” to provide feedback on repair offers.

Family members also can be helpful by offering to meet contractors who come to bid on repair work or look over contracts and other paperwork. They may also help ensure that contractors hired hold a valid license.

Bird encourages all those hiring contractors to make sure they hold a valid license by contacting the N.C. Licensing Board for General Contractors. Businesses entering contracts for construction valued at more than $30,000 must be licensed general contractors. A license number listed on a document is not sufficient proof, as it may have been revoked. Consumers can search online at www.nclbgc.org or call 919.571.4183

Scams that are often seen following a disaster include:

Fly-by-night contractors offering to do home repair and clean-up. Storm victims shouldn’t do business with strangers who show up immediately after the disaster. And don’t let a contractor pressure you to make a quick decision about home repair or clean-up.

Con artists who pose as government officials. Disaster victims should ask for and verify credentials when dealing with any government officials.

Loan offers. Con artists often offer disaster victims loans in exchange for a large amount of cash. Others may represent themselves as FEMA officials and promise to obtain FEMA funding for victims. Verify the credentials of anyone offering a loan.

Appeals for charitable donations. Most of us want to help disaster victims, and con artists take advantage of this generosity. Make contributions only to reputable charities with which you’re familiar, and never provide your credit card or bank account number to anyone you don’t know.

Price gouging. Unfortunately, some people will take advantage of a disaster by charging unusually high prices for services or products. North Carolina law prohibits charging unreasonably excessive prices for essential goods or services in any county where a disaster or an abnormal market disruption has been declared.

More information on post-disaster scams and recovery is available from Extension’s Disaster page and through county Extension Centers. Locate your local Cooperative Extension center by visiting at Extension’s website or through local government pages in your phone directory. To report fraud, contact the North Carolina Attorney General’s office at 1.877.5.NO.SCAM.

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