ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida’s attorney general is urging Floridians impacted by Hurricane Idalia to keep an eye out for scams.
Attorney General Ashley Moody said Floridians must be cautious of price gouging, disaster scams and fraud in the storm’s aftermath.
“Scammers may try to exploit this tragedy to rip off Floridians through contractor fraud, debris removal scams, price gouging or even looting,” Moody said. “I have already been in touch with local law enforcement and state attorneys in the hardest hit areas of our state, and we will not allow criminals to exploit this crisis to target Floridians trying to rebuild their lives.”
Following a disaster like Hurricane Idalia, Moody’s office said qualified contractors are usually in high demand and become booked up for months. Scammers or unqualified out-of-state workers may flood in to exploit needy Floridians. If your property was damaged from the storm, Moody’s office recommends you follow these tips when hiring a contractor:
- Have an insurance company evaluate damage before arranging repairs to ensure that the work will be covered under a policy;
- Get at least three written, itemized estimates on bids or repairs;
- Watch out for unsolicited offers or contractors claiming to perform repairs at a discount with leftover supplies from another job;
- Research a company and its reputation-look for references online, or ask a friend;
- Check to see if a company is properly licensed, insured and if there are any consumer complaints filed against a licensed contractor at MyFloridaLicense.com;
- Make sure a contractor is bonded and verified with a bonding agency;
- Read the entire contract, including the fine print, before signing to ensure it includes the required buyer’s right to cancel language. Understand penalties that may be imposed for cancellation;
- Insist on releases of any liens that could be placed on the property from all subcontractors prior to making final payments. Homeowners may unknowingly have liens placed against their properties by suppliers or subcontractors who did not get paid by the contractor. If the contractor fails to pay them, the liens will remain on the title;
- Never pay the full amount of a repair expense upfront and hesitate before providing large deposits; and
- Do not sign a certificate of completion or make final payment until satisfied with the work performed.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers disaster relief to eligible victims through various programs. When seeking aid, Moody’s office encourages you to consider the following:
- No state or federal disaster-relief agency will call asking for personal information;
- State and federal workers carry identification and will not ask for or accept cash;
- Know that applications for FEMA relief programs are free and can be accessed at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1(800) 621-FEMA; and
- Be wary of anyone who offers to fill out, assist with or expedite an application as they may be seeking access to personal information.
Water mains and personal wells can be affected during hurricanes. Moody’s office said dishonest companies and individuals may insist upon pricey tests to determine water safety. Avoid falling victim by following these tips:
- Ask for proof of identification if someone claims to be a representative of a city, county or utility provider needing to inspect a water main or well;
- Check for water safety alerts as provided by local media and utility providers;
- Contact a local health or utility department if it is uncertain that water being used is safe. Seek advice from state or local health departments to determine what tests should be performed and to help find certified testers nearby; and
- If in doubt, boil water vigorously for one to three minutes-or drink bottled water.
If planning to request removals of fallen or nearby trees, or have fallen trees removed after a storm, Moody’s office advises you to follow these tips:
- Watch out for anyone who approaches unsolicited about tree removal;
- Get multiple written estimates and ask whether debris removal is included in the estimate;
- Research a company thoroughly;
- Check for proof of insurance and verify with the insurer that the policy is current; and
- Never pay the full amount upfront and do not make a final payment until completely satisfied with the work.
Following a disaster, it is common to see charity scams pop up as scammers aim to take advantage of generous Floridians. Moody’s office advises you to eeview these tips to avoid falling for one of these schemes:
- Be wary of fake charities with similar names to well-known organizations;
- Avoid solicitors that use high-pressure tactics or are hesitant to provide additional information on the charitable organization;
- Consider donating to an established disaster-relief charity; and
- Contact the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 1(800) HELP-FLA to check the legitimacy of a charity or see if there are any complaints against the charity.
Anyone who suspects price gouging on essential items can report it to the Florida Attorney General’s Office by using the No Scam app, visiting MyFloridaLegal.com or calling 1(866) 9NO-SCAM.
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