Friday, May 17, 2013

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Attorney General Abbott Participates in Briefing, Meets with Emergency Management Personnel Responding to North Texas Tornadoes

GRANBURY – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today traveled to Granbury, where he and Gov. Rick Perry received a briefing from state and local emergency management authorities about the recovery effort in the wake of the 12 deadly tornadoes that struck North Texas Wednesday night.

During the news conference following the briefing, Attorney General Abbott pledged assistance to the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the City of Granbury and the counties of Hood and Bowie. Attorney General Abbott also warned North Texas residents about common ploys – including home repair scams and identity theft – that occur after severe weather.

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Attorney General Abbott receives
briefing about the recovery effort

Attorney General Abbott and
Gov. Perry tour damage

“My thoughts and prayers are with all of the Texans who were affected by Wednesday night’s devastating tornadoes,” Attorney General Abbott said. “The Texas Attorney General’s Office is committed to helping North Texas recover from this powerful storm and will continue working closely with the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the City of Granbury, Hood and Bowie counties and others to support these communities during this very difficult situation.”

Attorney General Abbott added: “Unfortunately, home repair scams and identity theft are common occurrences in the aftermath of a storm. North Texans should take steps to protect themselves and report any alleged home repair or identity theft scams to the Texas Attorney General’s Office.”

When North Texans turn to repair workers to help in the clean-up and rebuilding process, the Texas Attorney General’s Office urges residents to consider the following tips:

• Deal only with licensed or bonded contractors or builders;
• Contact an insurance adjuster to get an estimate of the damage and repair cost;
• Be wary of contractors who solicit services door-to-door, especially those that are unfamiliar or from out of town;
• Get the salesperson’s license plate number;
• Don’t rush into signing a contract, and never pay up-front for promised work;
• Secure the terms of any warranty work in writing; and
• Ask for references, or rely on recommendations from friends or relatives who have had experience with honest contractors.

Attorney General Abbott also warned residents that an unfortunate result of storms is often the loss of documents that contain personal and financial information such as Social Security, credit and bank account numbers. Identity thieves can use a victim’s personal information to make purchases and open new accounts in the victim’s name.

Attorney General Abbott encouraged North Texans who suspect they are victims of identity theft in the wake of the storms to take the following actions:

• File a police report with the local law enforcement agency and keep a copy of that report. Many banks and credit agencies require such a report before they will acknowledge that a theft has occurred.
• Obtain an ID Theft Kit from the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
• Contact the three primary credit reporting bureaus and request a security alert or freeze placed on the report.
• Request a copy of the credit report and review it for unauthorized account activity.
• Report unauthorized charges and accounts to the appropriate credit issuers and credit bureaus immediately by phone and in writing. Cancel the accounts.
• Immediately cancel credit and debit cards and get replacements if a purse or wallet is missing. Put a “stop payment” on all lost checks.
• Free credit reports – Texans are able to obtain free copies of their credit report and can request one report from each of the three major bureaus. To order free copies of their credit report, Texans can go online at www.annualcreditreport.com or call (877) 322-8228.

During the recovery process, North Texans can continue to protect their personal information by taking several precautions outlined by the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division, including:
• Only give out personal information to verified agencies that can provide assistance. Never provide credit card or bank account numbers or personal information in response to emails or unsolicited phone calls from individuals who claim to be from financial institutions or relief groups.
• Residents who are not picking up mail at their old address should contact their creditors to have statements forwarded to the new or temporary address. Residents should also contact their local post office to obtain a change of address or to ask them to hold their mail for pick-up.
• When disposing of documents with personal information during clean up, residents should use a paper shredder or take steps to be sure that identity thieves cannot read their personal information. Residents should also remember that the personal information of children can also be used by identity thieves – so shred children’s information as well.

Finally, Attorney General Abbott encouraged North Texans who are facing financial challenges after the storm to communicate with their creditors during the recovery process. Creditors often offer special consideration to victims of tragic circumstances. The Attorney General’s Office offered the following suggestions:

• North Texans who anticipate being late with payments should call their creditors and ask for help. Residents can ask about programs in place to defer their loan payments, waive late fees or raise their credit limit temporarily while they recover.
• Residents should call their utility companies – including their wireless carrier – and request permission to postpone payments, waive any late fees or be put on a different payment schedule.
• North Texans should contact their financial institutions and request that they waive ATM and overdraft fees – and ask them not to report any overdrafts to credit reporting agencies. Residents who withdraw certificates of deposit early should request the financial institution to waive penalties on early withdrawals.

Additional information to help North Texas residents protect themselves against home repair, identity theft and other storm-related scams is available on the attorney general’s website at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov or by calling (800) 252-8011.