AVOID SCAMS

During this rebuilding period, our community will be flooded with out of town contractors. Not all of them will be reputable. Please take care when hiring someone from outside our local area to work on your home.

The following is a short list of some red flags you will want to beware of:
- You’re told that on this job, a contract “won’t be necessary.”
- You’re asked to pay for the entire job “up front” -or pay cash to a salesperson instead of a check or money order to a company.
- You are confronted with scare tactics.
- You’re told you’ve been “chosen” as a demonstration project at a special, low price.
- You’re told a low price is good only if you sign a contract today.
- The contractor won’t give you references — or the references can’t be located.
- You can’t verify the contractor’s business address.

The following is a list of things to remember when hiring a contractor. Do your homework and proceed with care.
- Ask for proof of a business license from the city of Joplin.
- Ask for proof of general liability and workman’s compensation insurance. A reputable contractor should be able to show you an insurance certificate, and expect you to ask for it. Usually we would tell you to contact his insurance carrier and have a copy of the certificate sent directly from the agency, however, this may not be realistic during this time of disaster.
- In Joplin, jobs should be permitted and inspected. You should check with the inspection department in your area for complete information on what is required.
- Ask for references and check those references.
- Check with the Better Business Bureau for any history of unsatisfied complaints.
- Verify the company’s permanent business address is in this area and not from out of state.
- If you get more than one bid, be sure you are comparing apples to apples.
- You should understand your contract and warranties that the builder will provide for the work performed. The contract should outline the scope of the work, the price, and at what points of completion payment is due.
- Be wary of low bids – lowest bid is not always the best.
- Be wary of a contractor who wants full payment before the job begins.
- Most important – do your homework – I know everyone will want to get their homes repaired or replaced as quickly as possible but be patient.

Visit www.hbabuilders.com (Home Builders Association of Southwest Missouri) for a complete listing of builders and subcontractors. These are local professional men and women that live and work in this community every day. They will be here long after this disaster is over – an out of town contractor will be long gone if the roof leaks next spring. You can also call 417-623-5205 for a list if you don’t have internet access.

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WATCH OUT FOR PRICE GOUGING

After damaging storms and natural disasters, con artists can take advantage of consumers who are in desperate need of help.

Price gouging refers to artificially inflated prices on necessities after a disaster, natural or otherwise, so consumers should be aware of products that have suddenly seen large increases in price. Price gouging is illegal in Missouri.

Missouri law prohibits individuals and businesses from substantially raising their prices for the necessities of life during such an emergency. Missouri has seen price gouging after the onset of ice storms, hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters. The types of goods and services covered by the price-gouging law include: food, water, gasoline, hotel rooms, kerosene, gas-powered generators, and other basic necessities. Those who violate the price-gouging provisions can face penalties of up to $1,000 per violation. The Attorney General’s office is vigilant in enforcing Missouri’s law against this type of activity.

Missourians who suspect price gouging or other fraud can file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office at ago.mo.gov, or by calling the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-392-8222.

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IDENTITY THEFT

The power of tornados can transport items over many miles, and the personal documents of people impacted by the tornado likely have been scattered. The Attorney General’s Office offers the following suggestions for people whose personal financial information was lost:
- Contact your credit card companies and let them know of your situation. Ask if the company can put a pass code on your accounts to protect their use.
- Contact your bank to request similar assistance.
- Ask your credit card company and bank also to monitor your accounts for any suspicious activity.
- Consider running a credit report periodically with all three credit bureaus to make sure no one has used your identity.
- Sadly, you may discover mail belonging to other people. In that situation, the United States Postal Inspector’s Office encourages you to either (a) give it to your letter carrier and tell him/her that it is found mail or (b) put the mail in a bag with a note stating that it was found mail and take it to a post office window or drop it into a mail deposit box.
- Don’t give out your Social Security or account numbers unless you initiate the contact.
- Stop your mail service during the time you are unable to return to your residence, or have your mail forwarded to another address.
- Sadly, you may discover mail belonging to other people. In that situation, the United States Postal Inspector’s Office encourages you to either (a) give it to your letter carrier and tell him/her that it is found mail or (b) put the mail in a bag with a note stating that it was found mail and take it to a post office window or drop it into a mail deposit box.

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CHARITY FRAUD

Many charitable organizations are stepping up to help those in need. At the same time, there will be people who use this disaster to steal from you rather than raise funds to help others. Here are some tips for making sure your charitable donation goes to help your neighbors:
- Don’t judge a charity by its name. False charities may use names that closely resemble legitimate charities.
- Don’t let callers play on your sympathy by identifying their organization with the tornado. This can be a tactic to get your money.
- Don’t be pressured. Give only when you are comfortable with the charity.
- Don’t commit over the phone unless you have fully checked out the organization.
- Avoid cash donations and make checks payable to the organization, not to an individual.
- Be careful about letting solicitors into your home.

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CONTRACTOR SCAMS

Be on the alert for “storm chasers” – companies that follow severe weather and try to contract with homeowners who have suffered storm or tornado damage to provide roofing and other repair services. Company representatives will typically go door to door in storm-damaged areas posing as recovery experts or contractors specializing in home repairs.
These storm chasers will ask homeowners to sign a contract allowing their company to negotiate with the homeowner’s insurance company. The companies generally use high-pressure sales tactics; ask for cash up front; may have out-of-state drivers licenses or plates; be unable to produce local references; and have no proof of workers’ compensation insurance. Often, they perform shoddy work, then leave the area, leaving the homeowner with little or no recourse.
Storm chasers strike at a time when people are at their most vulnerable, trying to capitalize on the misfortunes of storm victims. The elderly and disabled are particularly at risk because they may be unable to assess the damage to their homes themselves.

Use the following tips to avoid being scammed by the storm chasers:
- Get at least two estimates on work in writing before choosing a contractor to repair your home or remove debris.
- Never enter into or sign a contract while reviewing it quickly – review the contract and check with the Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau for complaints and information regarding the company and or individuals representing the company.
- Ask how long the company has been in business and their physical location.
- Know where you are getting your supplies and get invoices for all purchases.
- Make sure your insurance company is working with you to provide the proper estimate and coverage allotted by your policy.
- Ask for insurance and licensing information, and make sure the company has the proper work permits before work begins.
- Never pay cash up front before the job is completed. Paying by check is the best method.
- Watch for price gouging on materials and work to be provided.
- Don’t pay full price for services you have yet to receive. Make full payment only when the terms of your agreement have been met.
- Always get a phone number and address for the company represented, and then check it out.
- Ask for local references and check with them about the work provided.
- If you notice out-of-state plates, logos on vehicles, etc., make note of the information.

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