Tornadoes, high winds, ice and flooding have caused widespread damage across the state over the past few weeks, and many people are quickly trying to recover and rebuild. Attorney General Bob Cooper and officials with the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs are urging consumers to use caution while trying to repair roofs, remove trees and make repairs to guard against those who wish to profit off someone else's misfortune.
"The past few weeks have been very trying for many people, but the need to stay vigilant is important in your search to get immediate help," Attorney General Bob Cooper said. "Most Tennesseans are always quick to help their neighbors in times of trouble, but it is important to help provide storm victims with the best information and preventative measures they can get to avoid being victimized again."
Problems that sometimes arise after a natural disaster include price gouging (in which a business unreasonably raises rates on essential goods and services during a State of Emergency or in response to a disaster), as well as fraud in the areas of home repair and debris removal.
"Potential bad actors often use times of disaster as a golden opportunity to make a quick profit, " said Gary Cordell, director of Tennessee's Division of Consumer Affairs, part of the Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI). "Anyone is a potential target of disaster-recovery home improvement scams. Don't let it happen to you."
Cordell urges homeowners to take the time to verify with the department's Board for Licensing Contractors before signing any contracts. Commerce and Insurance's license database, found at http://verify.tn.gov/. The site provides free licensing information for dozens of professions – including home improvement contractors. Cordell says homeowners should also seek contractors' references, ask for copies of general liability and workers' compensation insurance policies and get proposals and contracts in writing including the specifics of the work that will be done, the materials to be used and the completion date. The Board for Licensing Contractors also has a page of tips for consumers at http://1.usa.gov/GYSKNP.
General Cooper and Director Cordell offer the following tips to avoid becoming a con artist's victim:
*Avoid high-pressure sales tactics to act quickly before signing a contact.
*Do not give anyone money upfront before the job is finished.
*Ask a lot of questions and get references before agreeing from people you trust before hiring someone to do work for you.
*Take photos of your damage right away and during the course of the repair work and completion photos. You should also take photos of any repairs you believe were not done correctly.
If you have a problem with a business, you can file a complaint at www.tn.gov/consumer or call toll-free 1-800-342-8385. Consumer Affairs has a price gouging online complaint form at http://tn.gov/consumer/PriceGougeCmplnt.shtml. You can download more information from the Attorney General's website at: http://www.tn.gov/attorneygeneral/cpro/disasterrecovery.htm.