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Storm-chasing scams after tornadoes

5:07 PM, Apr 12, 2013   |    comments
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KSDK) - Storm victims are warned to be on the lookout for "storm-chasers" who may be looking to take advantage of people.

Attorney General Chris Koster said storm-chasers typically go door to door offering to provide roofing and other repair service.  In reality, the storm-chasers often do shoddy or no work after taking up-front payments.  Some also try to convince homeowners to allow them to sign a contra t for them to negotiate directly with the homeowner's insurance company.

PHOTOS: Hazelwood tornado damage

Tips to avoid falling victim to scams following a disaster:

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. Some insurance companies require an adjuster's approval before work can be done. Take pictures and videos of the damage, if possible. Cover holes in your roof or walls with a tarp to prevent additional damage if you can do so safely.

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.

For car repairs, shop around and compare written estimates. On major jobs, get a second opinion. If the mechanic recommends replacing parts, ask for the old parts. You may receive credit on some parts if the mechanic wants to keep them.

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.

Watch out for price-gouging. Missouri law is clear - price-gouging is illegal and the Attorney General's Office will investigate and prosecute price-gouging instances to the full extent of the law. Any person who believes a business has suddenly and artificially raised the prices on necessities including gas, food, clean-up, equipment, etc., should contact the Attorney General's Office.

PHOTOS: Tornado damage in The Hill neighborhood

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.  The Better Business Bureau has its own tips for hiring a contractor.

Tips from the Home Builder's Association on what to do when a disaster strikes:

• Stay calm
• Contact your insurance company before hiring a contractor
• Secure your property, recover and remove valuables
• Prevent further damage
• Make informed decisions related to repair contracts and costs
• Begin repairs

KSDK

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