Beware of home improvement/repair fraud - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Beware of home improvement/repair fraud

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JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

Officials with the National Center for the Prevention of Home Improvement Fraud were in the capital city Wednesday to educate homeowners.

Representatives with the federal agency travel the country offering "Smartpower" workshops.

They recently held seminars for tornado victims in Joplin, Missouri.

The sessions give homeowners, who are rebuilding or even renovating, information from start to finish.

This past fiscal year the Mississippi Attorney General's Office has investigated over 250 cases of home repair fraud.

Since Hurricane Katrina, the A.G.'s Office has made about 100 arrests on the Gulf coast.

The NCPHIF teaches homeowners how to be their own quality control managers while dealing with contractors.

"Two things we say you don't want to do. Don't give any money up front. Let me say that again. Don't give any money up front and be very leery of people who are soliciting you. You want to find your own contractor," said NCPHIF Executive Director Phae Howard.

For more information  log onto www.preventcontractorfraud.org. 

Attorney General Jim Hood reminds residents impacted by these storms to protect themselves from the scammers that every storm brings.

"Unfortunately, con artists prey on people who are down on their luck," said Attorney General Hood. "That's why it pays to arm yourself with the knowledge of their scams and learn how to protect yourself up front," said Hood.

The Attorney General suggests the following tips regarding home repair for residents impacted by these storms to avoid being taken advantage of:

                 -             Always get your contract in writing.

                -             Get at least two estimates.

                -             Ask for references and actually talk to those customers.

                -             Ask to see state or local permits and licenses.

                -             Don't give contractors money up front. 

                -             Contact the MS Board of Contractors to verify if the contractor is licensed.

                -             Get receipts for all repair payments, including those paid in cash. 

                -             If writing a check, make it out to the company's name rather than a worker. 

                -             Buy materials yourself, if possible.

If you are suspicious, do not hire the worker and report your concerns to your local law enforcement agency or our Consumer Protection division at 1-800-281-4418.

"These types of cases take a while to manifest after a storm," said Attorney General Hood. "It can be a long tedious process for the victim so it really pays to be a smart consumer. Get everything in writing,take photos of your contractor and their vehicle and vehicle tag. A legitimate contractor isn't going to be bothered by such actions." 

Additionally, the Attorney General warns consumers to be on the look out for fake officials.  Many times after storms hit, scam artists portray themselves as officials to obtain access into your home.  This is a common ploy for burglars and individuals selling expensive and unnecessary repairs.  Others represent themselves as brokers who say they can obtain FEMA ("Federal Emergency Management Agency") funds.  FEMA does not charge an application fee.  Verify the credentials of people offering low interest government loans.  Call the agency if necessary to ensure that the offering is legitimate.

Consumers are also warned to be wary of phony charities that may solicit donations by phone or email.  Do not give your credit card or checking account information to anyone you don't know, especially if you are being pressured to give money quickly.   A legitimate charity will provide details in writing.

Finally, the Attorney General warns those who have experienced or who may experience flooding to be smart about offers related to flood damage.  When it comes to basement waterproofing or water treatment devices, consumers are advised to research all possible options before purchasing any equipment or services.  In addition, any concerns related to the safety of water in a particular area should be discussed with local health officials.  

"Remember, the best defense against these scams is trusting your gut. When something sounds too good to be true, it almost always is," reminds General Hood. 

A copy of the Attorney General's Consumer Tips for Storm Victims and a model contract is available upon request or online at www.agjimhood.com.

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