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Scammers Swarm Like Cicadas After Storms

You may think things are looking up. The storms have ended. The floodwaters are receding. The sun is shining again.

It’s time to start repairing, restoring or rebuilding your home. That’s when the next disaster could strike – and you may not even see it coming.

See Also: Protect yourself from common seasonal swindles

“Scammers and con artists see large-scale disasters as their golden opportunities,” said Gary Cordell, director of Tennessee’s Division of Consumer Affairs, part of the Department of Commerce and Insurance. “They want to profit from your bad situation. Seniors are often the target of disaster-recovery home improvement scams. Don’t let it happen to you.”

Cordell urges homeowners check with the department’s Board of Licensing Contractors before signing any contracts. Cordell said homeowners should also seek contractors’ references, ask for copies of general liability and workers’ compensation insurance policies and get proposals and contracts in writing.

“Never give money upfront,” cautioned Cordell. “Too many times, someone will come to your door, promise to repair your home and demand some money to purchase building materials. If you give them cash, you may never see them again.”

Once you recognize a scam, resist the pitch. It’s OK to say you want to sleep on a proposal before making a decision. Also, just because it’s the lowest-cost estimate doesn’t make it the best.

If someone scams you or tries to rip you off, file a complaint. Don’t have access to a computer? Call toll-free 1-800-342-8385.

Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper says a number of other issues crop up after natural disasters, including price gouging – where the price of essential goods and services is jacked up to take advantage of affected home and business owners. Consumer Affairs has a price-gouging online complaint form.

“We are prepared to take action against individuals or businesses who engage in unfair or deceptive commercial practices,” he said.

Charity fraud also can be a problem, Cooper said. When someone purports to raise money to help with recovery, make sure they explain how the money will be used and avoid giving to anyone who uses high pressure tactics. You can find out if a charity is registered to solicit through the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office. You can also call 1-800-861-7393.

“It is wonderful that Tennesseans are so eager to help when their neighbors fall victim to natural disasters,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “However, it is important for potential donors to remember to follow some common sense steps, like paying by check rather than cash or credit card.”

AARP Tennessee State Director Rebecca Kelly said “it’s disgusting to think that scammers are out there preying on people who have already been victimized by natural disasters or who want to help their neighbors. But it’s true.”

That’s why AARP teamed up with state officials. “You can stop scammers by sharing this information with your neighbors and loved ones,” she said.

To do that, download the Attorney General’s “After the Storm” flyer and share it with everyone you know.

Stay safe and scam free.

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