Following the horrific tornadoes that devastated Mississippi, local residents are being forced to deal with a new danger, consumer fraud. Attorney General Jim Hood is asking people to be on the lookout for fraud and price gouging. He has stated that reports of price gouging by tree cutters are already coming in.
“It starts with the tree cutters, then the home fraud, then the con artists,” Hood said.
Price gouging involves charging exorbitant prices for routine services during times of extreme need. The Consumer Protection Act outlaws price gouging, as well as other unfair and deceptive business practices. Penalties can include a $10,000 fine per violation, as well as full refunds.
Following disasters of this magnitude, consumers need to take precautions. Anyone posing as a state official or offering a low-interest government loan should have their credentials verified by calling the agency in question. A common scam asks residents to pay an application fee for Federal Emergency Management assistance, for which there is no charge.
When preparing for home repairs, owners should try to get at least three estimates for the work. Contractors should only be used if they can be verified as legitimate. It is important to be specific about what work is to be done, and contracts should include as much information as possible, especially a start and completion date. Owners should also to be sure to never submit a final payment or sign a certificate of completion before the job is done.
To further protect yourself, always pay with a check or money order, and make the checks payable to a company rather than an individual. You should be sure to keep all receipts, and when possible buy the materials needed yourself. If the contractor is supplying the building materials, your down payment should not be more than 25 percent of the total cost.
Consumer fraud can take many forms, both in the aftermath of disasters like our recent tornadoes, and through the countless scams perpetrated on a daily basis. If you think you are have been victimized by illegal or illegitimate business practices, one of our consumer fraud lawyers can help you deal with your situation.
Contact a Consumer Fraud Attorney today to learn more about your rights.