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Official warns consumers of "storm-chasers" and price gouging following flooding

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NEWS RELEASE FROM MISSOURI ATTORNEY GENERAL CHRIS KOSTER

Attorney General Koster warns consumers of "storm-chasers" and price gouging following flooding in southern and central Missouri

Jefferson City, MO - Attorney General Chris Koster today warned consumers to be alert for scammers and price gouging following heavy rains and flooding across southern and central Missouri, and added that his office will pursue action against anyone who takes advantage of Missourians recovering from the disaster.  

"My office is prepared to protect property owners and other consumers in Missouri hit hard by severe flooding," Koster said.  "Anyone with flood or other storm related property damage should be alert for scammers who follow weather disasters and prey on people needing repair or cleanup work."

Koster said so-called "storm-chasers" often go door-to-door employing high-pressure sales tactics, offering to provide repair or cleanup services.  They may arrive from out-of-state and be unable to produce local references or prove that they are locally licensed or bonded. They might claim to specialize in flood repairs, and try to convince consumers to sign a contract allowing their company to negotiate directly with the homeowner's insurance company.  In reality, these storm-chasers provide shoddy or no work after taking up front payment, and then flee the area.

Koster also warned individuals and businesses against price-gouging, especially of necessities, such as gasoline, cleanup equipment, water, and food.

Koster offers the following tips to avoid becoming the victim of fraud or scams following natural disasters:

 

  • Beware of fake disaster officials. This is a common ploy for burglars or people pushing expensive or unnecessary repairs. Ask for identification for anyone who claims to be a government official. 
  • Contact your insurance company before moving ahead with repairs by a contractor. Some insurance companies require an adjuster's approval before work can be done. 
  • Watch out for brokers who promise so-called "guaranteed" loans from FEMA, especially if they ask for an up-front payment. FEMA does not charge an application fee. Verify the credentials of people offering low-interest government loans, and contact the agency directly to verify the person's employment. 
  • Do not pay for work up front. Inspect the work and make sure you are satisfied before you pay. A reasonable down-payment may be required for some projects, but don't pay anything without getting a written contract. Avoid paying with cash; use a check or a credit card instead. 
  • Beware of any contractor who tries to rush you or who comes to your home to solicit work. If an offer is "only good now or never," find someone else to perform the work. 
  • Seek recommendations from friends, neighbors, co-workers and others who have had work performed on their homes in the past.  Do not hire any person without asking for, and checking, references.
  • Get three written estimates for the work, if possible, and compare bids. Check credentials and contact the Attorney General's Office and the Better Business Bureau to learn about any complaints against the contractor. Before work begins, make sure you get a written contract detailing all the work to be performed, its costs and a projected completion date. 
  • Beware of charity scams that use recent storms to make their phony pleas for donations sound more plausible. If a caller refuses to answer your questions about the charity, offers to come to pick up a donation in person or calls you and asks for a credit card, bank account or Social Security number, it may be a scam. To report telemarketing fraud, call the Attorney General's Office. 
  • Report price-gouging.  Missouri law is clear - price-gouging is illegal and the Attorney General's Office will investigate and prosecute price-gouging to the full extent of the law.  Any person who believes a business has suddenly and artificially raised the prices on necessities should contact the Attorney General's Office.  

Consumers with questions about a contractor or who wish to file a consumer complaint should contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-392-8222 or online at ago.mo.gov.

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