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Hurricane Consumer Warning: Be Wary of Hurricane-Related Fraud

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The County Times Newspaper

The Southern Calvert Gazette Newspaper

Posted on August 26, 2011

BALTIMORE (August 26, 2011) – If you face major repairs to your home, business or other property as a result of damage caused by Hurricane Irene, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler urges you to be wary of home repair scams and other consumer fraud that often follow the storm’s destructive path.

“Con artists may try to take advantage of you at your most vulnerable moment,” said Attorney General Gansler. “Be wary of those door-to-door salesmen who follow disasters from state to state seeking to steal your hard-earned money. That could be money you’ll never see again for work they’ll never do.”

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. Many are eager to help their neighbors and their community recover from a disaster. These are people you are likely to know. Attorney General Gansler urges consumers to be wary of those so-called businesses you do not know.

Warning signs that consumers should look for following severe weather include:

-- Traveling salesmen who come knocking on your door immediately after a disaster

-- High-pressure sales tactics

-- Demands for up-front payments

-- Demands for an immediate decision

-- Advance-fee loans that “guarantee” a loan to rebuild your home or business

Before you give anyone your money, Attorney General Gansler advises Maryland homeowners and small businesses to be cautious and:

-- Check to see if a contractor is licensed by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission by calling 410-230-6309 or visiting http://www.dllr.state.md.us/license/mhic/ . Consumers can also ask the Commission about the contractor’s complaint history.

-- Deal only with contractors who have an established Maryland business.

-- Obtain at least three bids for major repair work and check references. Be cautious if one of the bids is much lower than the others.

Make certain that all important details concerning the work are written into the bid and contract, including: all of the work that 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 type and quality of materials to be used, how and when payments will be made, and the provisions of warranties on the materials and labor.

AG Gansler also advises consumers 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. Marylanders should contribute only to organizations that they know well and that willingly provide written information about their charitable efforts. Consumers should avoid making cash donations and always make checks payable to the organization, not the individual soliciting.

-- Check that a charity is registered with the state as required by law, by calling the Maryland Secretary of State’s Charities Division at 410-974-5534 or 1-800-825-4510

-- If you wish to file a consumer complaint - other than home repair - contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at 410-528-8662 or 1-888-743-0023 toll-free in Maryland. You can also file a consumer complaint on line by visiting: http://www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer/complaint.htm

-- Learn more about consumer scams by visiting the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division website at: http://www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer/index.htm

-- For home repair consumer information; to see if a contractor is licensed, the contractor’s complaint history or to file a complaint, call the Maryland Home Improvement Commission at 410-230-6309 or visit the MHIC website at: http://www.dllr.state.md.us/license/mhic/

Note: somd.com continues to post all official bulletins received from local governments and utilities here: http://somd.me/irenesomd2 . We will post all public closings, cancellations, and postponements related to Hurricane Irene here: http://somd.me/irenesomd .

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