Attorney General warns of scam risks in wake of wildfires

As an aggressive fire season blazes across the Idaho and the western United States, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden warns consumers that scams often follow natural disasters. Typical schemes involve home repair and construction fraud, deceptive door-to-door sales, fake government inspectors, and solicitations for fraudulent charities.

“While we usually see communities pulling together during times of tragedy, unfortunately we also see scammers taking advantage of people left in vulnerable positions,” Wasden says. “I encourage consumers to learn about these scams and to report deceptive business practices to my Consumer Protection Division.”

The following tips will help consumers avoid being victimized:

  • Check with local officials to see if no-cost or low-cost home inspections are available to help you decide on repairs.
  • Don’t get pushed into making a decision today: Some sellers use high-pressure or scare tactics.
  • Cancel a contract: If an unsolicited sale is made at your home, state law allows you to cancel it within three business days (Saturday is considered a business day).
  • Check workers’ and officials’ credentials: Never let anyone into your home without first asking for identification.
  • Use reliable contractors: Check for complaints filed with the Consumer Protection Division or the Better Business Bureau. For contractors, make sure the person is registered with the Idaho Contractors Board and get a lien disclosure from the contractor pursuant to Idaho Code § 45-525.
  • Always get a second opinion: Get a written estimate. Don’t overlook the fine print. In any agreement, include a statement on who is responsible for equipment and materials. If you make a partial advance payment for materials, make the check out to the materials supplier or to the supplier and the contractor.
  • Get a contract: Sign only a complete contract that lists the job details and costs. Make sure the agreement states who will apply for permits or licenses. Get a completion date before paying. Make a last payment only when you’re satisfied and you have lien waivers from each supplier to make sure no supplier has placed a lien on your home.
  • Get proof of insurance: Make sure a contractor carries general liability insurance and workers’ compensation. If the contractor is uninsured, you may be liable if an accident occurs or a structure is damaged.
  • Do not give money over the phone: If someone calls and asks you to give money to a charity, do not give money over the phone. If you are interested in donating, ask that written information be mailed to you.

Additional consumer education materials are available on the Attorney General’s website at www.ag.idaho.gov. Consumers may download a complaint form from the website or call (800) 432-3545 to ask one.

Here is the BBB’s Storm Chasers Resource Site.  On the resource site you’ll find industry tips like “Debris Removal”, “Disaster Preparedness”, “Hiring a Tree Service” and other disaster related tips.

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