Koster Issues Warning, Post Tornadoes

Jefferson City, Mo. – Attorney General Koster today warned consumers to look out for scams related to the tornado that swept through southern Missouri. He said scammers use natural disasters and other tragedies to prey on desperate, unsuspecting victims.

While the majority of contractors, tree-removal companies and car repair shops in the area are run by good business people, Koster said there are unscrupulous scam artists that will travel to areas hit by natural disasters to take advantage of consumers.

Koster asked residents to report any suspicious or fraudulent activity to his Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-392-8222. Koster also offered the following tips to avoid becoming the victim of fraud:
· Beware of fake disaster officials. This is a common ploy for burglars or people pushing expensive or unnecessary repairs. Ask for identification for anyone who claims to be a government official.

· Contact your insurance company. Some insurance companies require an adjuster’s approval before work can be done. Take pictures and videos of the damage, if possible. Cover holes in your roof or walls with a tarp to prevent additional damage if you can do so safely.

· Never pay for work up front. Inspect the work and make sure you are satisfied before you pay. A reasonable down-payment may be required for some projects, but don’t pay anything without getting a written contract. Avoid paying with cash; use a check or a credit card instead so you have a record of the payment.

· Watch out for brokers who promise so-called “guaranteed” loans from FEMA, especially if they ask for an upfront payment. FEMA does not charge an application fee. Verify the credentials of people offering low-interest government loans, and contact the government agency directly to verify the person’s employment.

· Beware of any contractor who tries to rush you or who comes to your home to solicit work. If an offer is only good now or never again, find someone else to perform the work. Seek recommendations from friends, neighbors, co-workers and others who have had work performed on their homes.

· Get three written estimates for the work, if possible, and compare bids. Check credentials and contact the Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau to learn about any complaints against the contractor. Before work begins, make sure you get a written contract detailing all the work to be performed, its costs and a projected completion date.

· For car repairs, shop around and compare written estimates. On major jobs, get a second opinion. If the mechanic recommends replacing parts, ask for the old parts. You may receive credit on some parts if the mechanic wants to keep them.

· Beware of charity scams that use the storms to make their phony pleas for donations sound more plausible. If a caller refuses to answer your questions about the charity, offers to come to pick up a donation in person or calls you and asks for a credit card, bank account or Social Security number, it may be a scam. To report telemarketing fraud, call the Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-392-8222.

· Beware of Price Gouging. Missouri law is clear – price gouging is illegal and the Attorney General’s office will investigate and prosecute price-gouging instances to the full extent of the law. Any person who believes a business has suddenly and artificially raised the prices on necessities including gas, food, clean-up, equipment, etc., should contact the Consumer Protection Hotline or file the complaint online at www.ago.mo.gov.