Consumer Watchdog

After Hurricane Idalia: watch out for repair scams, price gouging

Those not affected should be on guard for donation scams

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A hurricane can bring problems beyond the damage from the storm surge, flooding and tornadoes. After a storm, you can face price gouging, repair scams and carbon monoxide poisoning caused by generators.

Here are tips to help you and those you care about:

  • Be on guard for price gouging: Florida, Georgia and North Carolina are among the states that prohibit price gouging after a disaster or emergency. We often see businesses and individuals take advantage of the storm and people’s need for supplies by increasing prices by gargantuan amounts for things like chain saws, gasoline, building supplies and bottled water. You should report incidents of price gouging to your attorney general. Here’s a list of the attorneys general for every state.

  • Use generators with caution: If your electricity is out and you’re relying on a generator in your home or someone else’s, make sure the generator is outdoors and isn’t in any kind of enclosed structure. Major storms often lead to people being hospitalized or dying from carbon monoxide poisoning because generators weren’t properly ventilated.
    Also, make sure generators are properly grounded and kept dry. Here’s a list of other important tips for safe generator use.
  • Watch out for fraud and scams: After past disasters, con artists have posed as federal employees, insurance agents and housing inspectors to steal information and money. Scam robocalls have promised victims money for simple information. Ask for appropriate identification from anyone who stops by or calls.

  • Don’t give out personal information such as Social Security numbers, bank account information, policy numbers or anything else to someone you didn’t contact independently.

  • Remember: FEMA doesn’t charge anyone to submit an application.

  • File claims quickly: Report your claim as soon as possible because insurance companies generally process claims first come, first served, according to the Consumer Federation of America. Also, insurers should not raise your rate for filing a hurricane claim or fail to renew your policy for filing one, CFA said. Make detailed lists of losses, including living expenses and debris removal, and keep all receipts.

  • Get estimates: If possible, get multiple estimates from contractors to help you file a claim that will be accurate when it’s time to pay the bill.
  • Avoid large deposits: Don’t give anyone a large deposit or down payment before they provide their goods or services. Make any deposits by credit card if possible because you have additional protections by law. Never pay with cash, a P2P payment, a wire transfer or gift card.

  • Vet contractors: Homeowners should use only licensed contractors with verifiable references to work on their property. When interviewing contractors, homeowners should ask for proof of their insurance and bonding, and about their past experience repairing damage from flooding or other disasters and their mold remediation practices. Each state has a Board of Contractors that offers a full list of licensed contractors. Homeowners can also get advice from FEMA.

  • Make sure your food is safe: Hurricanes and tropical storms carry a lot of dangerous bacteria that can contaminate food or food preparation materials. The basic rules:
    If food has touched any flood waters, even if it’s still in the packaging, it should be thrown out.
    Discard any containers with visible damage. Some undamaged food may be salvageable, if it didn’t require refrigeration.
    Use bottled water until local authorities have confirmed the local water supply is safe.
    And completely disinfect all food preparation surfaces, utensils, baby bottles, cutting boards, etc

  • Watch out for identity theft: Identity theft can compound your problems after a hurricane. Storm victims are particularly vulnerable. U.S. law allows anyone to freeze their credit files at no cost. People can find out more here about how to protect themselves from identity theft.

  • Avoid scammers posing as charities: Con-artists will try to take advantage of someone else’s misfortune and people’s big hearts by soliciting donations that won’t really go to help disaster victims after all. Check out this guide from the Federal Trade Commission on donating wisely and avoiding ripoffs.

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