Attorney General's News Release
April 12, 2013
Attorney General Koster warns consumers of “storm-chasers” after severe storms in St. Louis and surrounding areas
Jefferson City, MO – Attorney General Chris Koster today warned consumers to be alert for possible "storm-chasers" following Wednesday night’s storms across Missouri, and said that his office will pursue action against anyone who takes advantage of Missouri consumers in the clean-up phase.
"We are here to protect Missourians whose homes and businesses were damaged by these devastating storms," Koster said. "All Missourians who experienced storm damage should be on the alert for storm-chasers -- scammers who follow severe weather and prey on people needing to repair or rebuild their property."
Koster said storm-chasers typically go door-to-door, offering to provide roofing and other repair service. They often claim to be recovery experts or contractors specializing in home repairs. In reality, these storm-chasers provide shoddy or no work after taking up-front payment, and then flee the area, leaving the homeowner with little or no recourse.
Storm-chasers generally use high-pressure sales tactics, ask for cash up-front, and may try to convince consumers to sign a contract allowing their company to negotiate with the homeowner’s insurance company directly. Storm-chasers often have out-of-state driver’s licenses or license plates and are not able to produce local references or prove they have the licenses or bonds required by the municipality or county.
Koster offers the following tips to avoid becoming the victim of fraud or scams following a disaster:
- 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.
- Watch out for brokers who promise so-called "guaranteed" loans from FEMA, especially if they ask for an up-front payment. FEMA does not charge an application fee. Verify the credentials of people offering low-interest government loans, and contact the agency directly to verify the person’s employment.
- Do not 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.
- 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," find someone else to perform the work.
- Seek recommendations from friends, neighbors, co-workers and others who have had work performed on their homes in the past. Do not hire any person without asking for, and checking, references.
- 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 recent 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.
- Watch out for 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 Attorney General’s Office.
Consumers with questions about a contractor or who wish to file a consumer complaint should contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-392-8222 or online at ago.mo.gov.