Commonwealth of Virginia
Office of the Attorney General
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Michael Kelly, Director of Communications
ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES CONSUMERS TO BEWARE OF FRAUD AND SCAMS FOLLOWING HURRICANE MATTHEW
~ Urges awareness of common post-disaster frauds and scams involving door to door sales of services, charitable solicitations, and home repair or debris removal ~
RICHMOND (October 14, 2016) - As Virginia recovers from the impact of Hurricane Matthew, Attorney General Mark R. Herring today encouraged Virginians to know their rights as consumers and to be on the lookout for common frauds and schemes that prey upon people affected by natural disasters. Specifically, the Office of the Attorney General alerted Virginians to scams involving door to door canvassing, charitable contribution solicitations, and home repair proposals.
"This storm has already had a significant impact on Virginia families and we don't want anyone to be a victim twice," said Attorney General Mark Herring. "Sadly, those affected by storms are often the target of frauds, scams, and other illegal practices as they try to clean up and move forward. I strongly encourage that Virginians make themselves aware of the type of fraudulent behavior that follow natural disasters like this. Know your rights, resist the pressure to make quick decisions, and call my office anytime you feel like you may have been a victim of a deceptive or illegal business practice."
Consumers can contact Attorney General Herring's Consumer Protection Section at 1(800) 552-9963 and can file a complaint online. Consumers are encouraged to keep and provide copies of as much documentation as possible.
HOME REPAIRS, DEBRIS REMOVAL, OR CLEANUP
Home repair companies will arrive at disaster sites in response to the high demand for their services resulting from widespread property damage. Often disreputable companies hoping to make easy money are among them. They may require you to pay them before doing the work, do a shoddy job, or add extra costs throughout the job. To avoid being taken advantage of in this way, follow these tips:
- Work with contractors you know or local firms with roots in the community.
- Ask people you trust for contractor referrals.
- Ask the contractor for references and check them.
- Check out the contractor's licensing and complaint history with the Virginia Board for Contractors at 804-367-8511 or
- Get written estimates from several firms.
- Do not do business without a written contract. Be sure that all guarantees, promises, and details are in writing.
- Do not pay large sums in advance and never make final payment until all work is completed to your satisfaction.
- Be extra cautious when a contractor comes to your door soliciting your business, offers you discounts for finding other customers, or "just happens to have" materials left over from a previous job.
DOOR TO DOOR SOLICITATIONS
In addition to home repair services, door-to-door solicitors may offer a variety of products for use after the disaster. Some door-to-door solicitors are not legitimate. Remember these tips when someone comes to your door to sell you something:
- High pressure sales tactics are often a part of fraudulent activity. Do not be hurried or intimidated. The salesperson is at your door uninvited and remains there only at your courtesy.
- Be extra cautious about letting someone into your home. Never let anyone into your home without first asking for identification.
- Under Virginia law, you have three days to cancel sales made at your home if the product or service costs $25 or more.
- Your right of cancellation may be waived by you in an emergency. Be very cautious about signing a document that waives your right to cancel the sale. Read anything you are asked to sign very carefully.
- If you decide to purchase from or use the services of a door-to-door solicitor, get all information and promises in writing; but remember, without a bricks and mortar business location, it is easy for these individuals to relocate and make it impossible for you to find them should legal recourse become necessary.
While there are many legitimate organizations that provide relief to disaster victims, there are those who are willing to collect funds for non-existent charities and pocket the money. Solicitations may come by phone, mail, or in person. Always follow these tips when considering a charitable donation:
- Only give to disaster relief charities you know are reliable.
- Beware of "copy-cat" names that are similar to those of reputable charities but not exactly the same.
- Do not be pressured into giving. Legitimate organizations will not expect you to contribute immediately.
- Ask for written information. Legitimate organizations will give you materials about the charity's mission, how your donation will be used, and proof that your contribution is tax-deductible.
- Just because a "charity" has a tax identification number does not mean that it is a charitable organization or that your contribution is tax-deductible.
- Ask how much of the donation will go to the program you want to support and how much will go to administrative or fundraising costs. Legitimate charities will be able to give you this information.
- Avoid cash donations. Make checks payable to the charitable organization and not to an individual collecting a donation.
- Verify the charity's registration with the Virginia Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs by calling (804) 786-1343 or online at http://cos.va-vdacs.com/cgi-bin/char_search.cgi.
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