TRENTON – The state’s Division of Consumer Affairs today warned consumers to watch for home repair scams and charity scams during the post-Hurricane Irene recovery period.
Gov. Chris Christie said in a Consumer Affairs press release: “It is an unfortunate fact that disasters attract their share of con artists and frauds, from fly-by-night home improvement contractors, to fake charities that do nothing but line their own pockets. New Jersey consumers recovering from flood and wind damage should look at every sales pitch and charity solicitation with a critical eye. Disaster recovery is enough of an ordeal, without the added outrage of being scammed.”
Christie, Attorney General Paula Dow, and Thomas Calcagni, director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, also said in a joint release that “dishonest home improvement contractors have been known to prey on individuals seeking to repair their homes after severe flooding incidents.
“Offering low prices and speedy work, they may leave consumers with poor or half-finished work, and homes that remain unsafe,” the release stated. “Fraudulent charities also solicit donations in the wake of disasters. At least one such apparent fraud began after the March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster that affected Japan. Misusing the name of a respected charitable organization, the alleged scammer sent out emails asking consumers to send donations of no less than $300, via Western Union to a location in the Philippines.”
These scams can cost consumers dearly, and are especially prevalent in post-disaster situations, officials said. “Bad home improvement contractors can leave homeowners with costs in the tens of thousands of dollars,” Dow said. “Fake charities capitalize on compassion, to steal money that should go to worthy causes. Just as we are investigating allegations of illegal price-gouging, we will investigate any and every complaint about con artists, should they attempt to capitalize on the hardships caused by Hurricane Irene. We urge consumers to take the first step of being careful and protecting themselves.”
Officials urged unsure consumers or consumers suspicious of fraudulent activity to call the division’s hotline at (800) 242-5846.
“Con artists thrive in situations when stress levels are high, and consumers feel they must act quickly without taking a close look at who it is they’re doing business with,” Calcagni said. “Consumers should know there is always time to step back and learn about the person who is asking you for money – whether it’s a contractor you just met, or a charity calling on the phone.”
Assembly Consumer Affairs Chair Paul Moriarty, (D-4), of Washington Township, also alerted residents to price gouging schemes.
“Scary events like Hurricane Irene tend to bring the best out in people, evidenced by the rescue efforts witnessed in many towns affected by the storm, but also the worst,” Moriarty said in a release. “Residents having to deal with flooded homes or worse have to worry not only about costly repairs, but unscrupulous contractors and businesses looking to make some extra cash at the expense of people’s misery.
“There are reports of people being charged thousands for jobs that should have cost just hundreds. There are even reports of people being overcharged for water and gasoline,” Moriarty said. “Residents should be aware that New Jersey law prohibits raising prices more than 10 percent during or after a state of emergency. If they believe they have been overcharged for a service, they should call Consumer Affairs.”
For more information on home repair scams, download the division’s information packet (in PDF format) at www.NJConsumeraffairs.com/press/floodvictims.pdf (or in Spanish at at www.NJConsumerAffairs.com/press/SPfloodvictims.pdf).
Some of the tips include demanding identification before any home inspection by utility companies and never giving your credit card number to strangers over the phone or on the internet.
To learn whether a contractor is properly registered with the Division of Consumer Affairs, call (800) 242-5846 or use the free license Llookup iPhone app available at www.NJConsumerAffairs.com.
For more information on charity scams, download the division’s information packet (in PDF format) at www.NJConsumerAffairs.com/brief/charity.pdf or in Spanish at www.NJConsumerAffairs.com/espanol/spbrief/charity.pdf.