State Warns Of Storm Scams

OCEAN CITY — In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and this week’s Nor’easter, the state’s Attorney General is warning citizens to take steps to protect themselves from scam artists and con men looking to take advantage of those in vulnerable situations.

Sandy passed through the area two weeks ago, downing trees, blowing off roofs and siding, flooding homes and businesses and picking up small buildings and moving them in some cases. In the wake of the storm, many area residents are contacting contractors to repair and remediate damages, but Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler this week warned of possible scams.

“Marylanders should always be on guard for the flood of con artists who try to take advantage of consumers after a big storm,” he said. “These swindlers will try to rip off families and business owners who are desperate to get their storm damage fixed. Be careful with door-to-door salesmen using high pressure tactics to get your hard-earned money. That money may vanish while the repair goes undone.”

Gansler was quick to point out the segment of contractors and repair companies looking to take advantage of vulnerable, storm-tossed residents was a very small minority and advised citizens to go with companies with whom they are familiar or from the recommendations of others.

“The vast majority of home repair contractors, tree removal companies and car repair shops in Maryland are reputable businesses doing good work for their customers,” he said. “Many are eager to help their neighbors and their communities recover from a disaster. These are people you are likely to know and trust.”

The attorney general issued a few helpful warning signs a contractor or repair company might not be on the up and up. For example, he advised to be wary of traveling salesmen who come knocking on the door immediately after a disaster. Residents are also reminded to be aware of high-pressure sales tactics, demands for up-front payments, and demands for immediate action. Gansler also warned of advance-fee loans that “guarantee” a loan to rebuild a home or business.

The attorney general also warned Marylanders to check to see of a home improvement contractor is licensed by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission and to inquire about a contractor’s complaint history. Also, check to seek of a tree expert is licensed by the DNR. Obtain at least three bids for major repair work, check references and be wary of one bid is significantly lower than the others.

Gansler also reminded residents to make certain all important details are written into the bid and contract including all of the work the contractor has agreed to perform, the dates the work will begin and is expected to be completed, the total cost of the work, the types and costs of the materials to be used, how and when payments will be made and the provisions of the warranties on the materials and the labor.

Gansler is also warning Marylanders this week to be wary of phony relief efforts, fraudulent charities and scam artists who use the name of an organization similar to a well-known charity. Residents are advised to contribute only to organizations they know well and that willingly provide written information about their charitable efforts. Consumers should avoid making cash donations, particularly when they are not familiar with the organization or individual, and always make checks payable to the organization and the individual soliciting the donations.

For a complete list of contact information for the various agencies and commissions that regulate contractors, tree removal companies and auto repair companies, for example, or to find out more about the state agencies that regulate the various charitable organizations, visit the attorney general’s website at www.oag.state.md.us.

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