Attorney General Sam Olens Cautions Georgians About Hurricane Matthew Scams
Atlanta, GA – Attorney General Sam Olens is warning consumers to be on the lookout for scams in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. “Unfortunately, con artists often exploit disasters by taking advantage of storm victims or preying on the sympathies of those who want to help out,” says Attorney General Olens.
A natural response to seeing and hearing about the devastation created by a natural disaster is to seek to help the victims in some way, such as donating to a relief organization. Unfortunately, scammers know this and are ready to take advantage of people’s heightened emotions. They pose as reputable charities soliciting donations. They may target consumers through unsolicited emails, telemarketing calls or by knocking on their doors. They often create legitimate-looking websites that have similar names as actual charities, sometimes even using the actual logo of a reputable relief organization. Of course, the money you donate only benefits the scammer, not the victims. To make sure you are donating to a legitimate charity, the Attorney General recommends the following guidelines:
- Don’t respond to unsolicited emails and avoid clicking on any links they contain. Only open attachments from senders you know and trust.
- You can research a charity by going to www.give.orgorwww.charitynavigator.org
- Research the actual website of the charity you want to donate to rather than trusting a link from an email or pop-up ad.
- Note that legitimate charities’ websites typically end in .org, not .com
- Make checks payable to the organization, not to an individual. Avoid cash donations and wire transfers.
- High-pressure tactics are often a red flag that it’s a scam.
Home Repair Fraud
Following a weather-related emergency, scammers often show up offering to help with tree removal and home repair work. Rather than helping you clean up the wreckage, these “storm chasers” are only looking to clean out your wallet. They may offer a great price and pressure you to act immediately by saying the deal is only good for a limited time. They insist that you pay up-front (often in cash). Once you do so, they disappear with your money without doing any work. The Attorney General advises consumers to do business with local firms that are well-established and whose references can be checked. Do not give individuals money up-front based upon the promise that they will be back to do the work. In addition, the office suggests the following before hiring someone to do home repairs:
- Ask friends, neighbors and coworkers for referrals.
- Contact local trade organizations to find contractors in your area.
- Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints against the business.
- Make sure that general contractors, electricians, plumbers and heating and air conditioning contractors are licensed. You can verify this on the Secretary of State’s website: www.sos.georgia.gov. Note that certain specialty occupations such as roofers, painters, drywall contractors and repair handymen are not required to be licensed by the state.
- Get written bids from several contractors. Be skeptical if the bid is too low. Cheaper is not necessarily better.
- Ask for references and check them out.
- Always insist on a written contract for work to be performed, with all guarantees, warranties and promises in writing.
- Ask to see proof of insurance (personal liability, workers’ compensation and property damage).
- Never pay for the entire project before the work begins. A small payment may be due up-front, but don’t pay in full until the project has been completed to your satisfaction.
- Paying with a credit card instead of cash will give you more protections against fraud.