May 3, 2011 12:46:00 PM
As victims of tornadoes last week try to reassemble their fragmented lives, state officials are asking people to be on the lookout for fraud and price gouging.
Attorney General Jim Hood, who recently toured the damage in Smithville, said reports of price gouging by tree cutters have already come in.
"It starts with the tree cutters, then the home fraud, then the con artists," Hood said.
To avoid being taken advantage of, Hood recommended that storm victims take the following steps to protect themselves:
· Only deal with contractors you know and that you can verify are legitimate. Beware of job listings offered through 800 or 900 phone numbers.
· Get at least three estimates for any repair work.
· Get a guarantee in writing, not just verbally. Also, make sure to include a beginning and completion date in the contract and as much specific information as you can.
· Don''t pay a down payment of more than 25 percent of the total price for building materials. Better yet, find out what the contractor needs and buy the materials yourself.
· Be specific about what you want done and how you want it done.
· Always pay be check of money order and keep the receipt. Write all checks to the company, not individuals. Also, make sure any subcontractors are paid to prevent a lien being placed against your property.
· Do not sign a certificate of completion or make a final payment until you are satisfied with all the work performed.
· The state''s Consumer Protection Act outlaws price gouging and other unfair and deceptive practices. Penalties include up to a $10,000 fine per violation, refunds and injunctive relief.
· Ask for identification from anyone posing as an official, especially before letting them in your home.
· Do not pay any application fee for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance.
· Verify the credentials of people who offer low-interest government loans. Call the agency if necessary.
For more tips and information about avoiding fraud, visit AGJimHood.com. If you suspect fraud or price gouging, file a report by calling the Attorney General''s Office at 1-800-281-4418.
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