Take Simple Steps To Avoid Disaster-Related Scams

In the wake of Hurricane Ike, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) reminds affected Texans to avoid fraudulent clean-up and recovery-related scams. By remaining vigilant, Texans can avoid costly schemes in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Some scam artists will purport to represent charities that benefit storm victims. Texans who are contacted and asked to donate to a charity should verify the charity’s purpose and request brochures or other literature that describes the organization’s relief efforts.

Homeowners should review their insurance policies to find out what property damages are covered. Property owners should be very wary of door-to-door contractors who offer to make home or roof repairs. The work of these laborers is frequently careless and overpriced. In some cases, they demand up front payment and leave with the homeowner’s money without making the promised repairs.

Texans also should be wary of vehicles that sustained water damage. Before agreeing to buy new vehicles from dealers in the area affected by Ike, consumers should look for water lines on the carpet or in the glove compartment.

Texans also should be on the look out for scam artists pretending to be employed by a government agency. Individuals posing as government officials may attempt to obtain bank account numbers or cash from affected residents. Before providing any personal information to someone claiming to be a government official, Texans should insist on seeing proper identification.

Consumers should keep written records and receipts of any potentially fraudulent transactions. If speaking directly with the service provider does not resolve the dispute, Texans should call the OAG’s Consumer Complaint Hotline at (800) 252-8011. Hotline staff is available between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. If Internet service is available, consumers may file a written complaint online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

A disaster declaration triggers heightened OAG enforcement authority under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. This authority protects Texans by prohibiting exorbitant prices for necessities, such as drinking water, food, batteries and generators.

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Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas

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ABOUT CONSUMER ALERTS - The Office of the Attorney General accepts consumer complaints about businesses. When a pattern of complaints warrants intervention, the Attorney General can file a civil lawsuit under consumer protection statutes, sometimes with the result that a company is required to pay restitution to consumers -- see our Major Lawsuits page. However, when a consumer is swindled by a con artist, filing a complaint cannot help. Civil litigation can sometimes put a very unscrupulous business out of action, but often cannot produce restitution.

Individual con artists generally fall under the jurisdiction of a criminal prosecutor -- in Texas, this is the district or county attorney. But even when they are charged and convicted, these individuals usually have spent the money as fast as they have stolen it. A person who is the victim of fraud should report the incident to the police or sheriff. But by far the best thing is for consumers to be aware of fraud, so they are not swindled in the first place. For this reason, the Office of the Attorney General posts these Consumer Alerts about possible scams and schemes that come to our attention through citizen contacts to our office or other sources.

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