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Scams and fraud add insult to injury after a disaster

Writer:

Debbie Johnson
Writer
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-9183
Email: JohnsonD@missouri.edu

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011

Story source:

Janet C. LaFon, 417-358-2158

CARTHAGE, Mo. – People can become victims twice in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

Dishonest businesses, questionable charities and others looking to make a quick buck try to take advantage of both disaster survivors and those wishing to help.

“You need to check things out thoroughly before you start dealing with any business or organization,” said Janet LaFon, family financial education specialist for University of Missouri Extension. “The Better Business Bureau is one source for checking the track record for any business.”

Be on the lookout for home repair swindles, price gouging and charitable donation scams. Criminals typically target people they perceive as vulnerable, such as victims of a disaster.

“Rule No. 1: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” LaFon said.

Too often, unscrupulous people will show up at your door with an amazing price for a repair job, she said. This should be a red flag. If they tell you the offer is only good if you act “right now,” tell them “no” and send them on their way.

“Before you sign a contract or hand over any money, do your homework,” LaFon added. “The Missouri Attorney General’s office is a great place to learn if there have been any complaints against a business or charity.”

Homework is also important when looking to hire a contractor for repair work.

“Check references,” she said. “Reputable contractors will be willing to give you the names and numbers of previous customers. Family and friends can also be good sources of references and recommendations.”

Ask contractors for proof of insurance and insist on a written contract.

“A complete contract will state all the work to be performed, all the costs associated with that work, and a payment schedule,” LaFon said. “Never sign a blank or incomplete contract.”

Get guarantees in writing, don’t make the final payment on the job until the work is completed to your satisfaction and don’t make any on-the-spot cash payments, she said.

For more information from MU Extension on consumer frauds and scams, go to http://missourifamilies.org/quick/consumerqa/qaca63.htm.

Additional resources:

-Missouri Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division: 800-392-8222 or http://ago.mo.gov/divisions/consumer/consumer-complaints.

-Better Business Bureau: http://www.bbb.org/us.