AG Carr, Commissioner King Warn Georgians of potential fraud following tornadoes

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AG Carr, Commissioner King Warn Georgians of potential fraud following tornadoes

ATLANTA — Attorney General Chris Carr and Insurance Commissioner John King are urging Georgians to be on the lookout for potential home repair fraud, insurance scams, price gouging, and other schemes following the recent tornadoes and severe storms that moved throughout the state.

When bad storms or tornadoes cause widespread damage to homes, criminals may try to exploit the disaster with storm fraud. These scam artists, often referred to as “storm chasers,” may ask homeowners for up-front payments for home repair services and then disappear without ever doing the work, according to the press release from the Attorney General’s Office.

In other cases, scammers may charge exorbitant prices, charge you for unnecessary repairs or do substandard work. Sometimes scammers offer to cover the homeowner’s insurance deductible and persuade them to give fake reports to the insurance company, potentially implicating the homeowner in a case of insurance fraud, the press release states.

Carr and King are offering the following tips to help Georgians avoid home repair fraud and insurance scams. The first is to steer clear of any contractor who asks for full payment up-front, only accepts payment in cash, or refuses to provide you with a written contract, the press release states.

The second is to avoid door-to-door offers for home repair work. Instead, ask friends and neighbors for referrals, according to the press release. Be skeptical of any contractor that offers to pay your insurance deductible or offers other no-cost incentives, as these can be signs of a scam. Always talk to your insurance company before committing to any storm-related repairs or inspections.

The third is to ask contractors for references and check them out. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints against the business, the press release states.

Lastly, ensure that all contractors have the required licensing, or affiliation.

For tree removal, check with the International Society of Arboriculture to make sure the person has a valid arborist license.For water damage and mold— hire businesses that are local and qualified in mold remediation and property restoration. To find local contractors and restorers, check with the Society of Cleaning and Restoration Technicians and the Restoration Industry Association.

General contractors, electricians, plumbers, and heating and air conditioning contractors must be licensed with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. However, certain specialty occupations such as roofers, tree removal services, painters, drywall contractors and repair handymen are not required to be licensed by the state. To look up a contractor, visit sos.ga.gov.

When it comes to legitimate contractors, they should be able to provide a business license, general liability insurance, workers compensation insurance, written manufacturer warranties, and written labor warranties, according to the office. Public adjusters are also required to carry a license to do work in Georgia, the press release states.

It is advised for residents to call the Insurance Commissioner’s Office at 1-800-656-2298 to verify if a public adjuster is licensed and that their contract has been approved before hiring them to do any work on your behalf.

Fraudulent charities is another thing residents are asked to look out for when a natural disaster occurs. These charities tend to pop-up quickly, the press release from the Attorney General’s Office states.

It is fairly easy for a scammer to set up a realistic-looking website, copy a logo, or create a name that sounds very close to that of a well-known charity, according to the press release. Consumers should also be careful when responding to ads or posts they see on social media or crowdfunding sites, as these are not always legitimate – even if they have been shared or liked by your friends, it states. It is very important to take your time to review an organization thoroughly before you give someone your money.

The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division has put together the following tips to help Georgians avoid charity fraud. The Consumer Protection Division wants you to first consider donating only to charities you know and trust, according to the press release. Websites such as give.org, charitynavigator.org, charitywatch.org, guidestar.org can also help you determine whether an organization is reputable and how likely it is to use your money effectively and efficiently, according to the press release.

Residents are also advised to find out whether the charity plans to share your contact information with other charitable organizations or marketing companies. This commonly occurs, which is why people often receive solicitations from other charities after making a donation, the press release states. You can review a charitable organization’s donor privacy policies via the Charity Navigator and BBB Wise Giving Alliance websites, according to the press release. Never give out your credit card or bank account information in response to an unsolicited phone call, email or text, the press release states. Instead, ask the person to mail you the information.

On Jan. 12, 2023, Governor Brian Kemp declared a State of Emergency in Georgia due to the severe storm system and tornadoes that moved throughout the state. This Executive Order invokes the Price Gouging Statute as it pertains to goods and services necessary to respond to the State of Emergency, including motor and diesel fuel, according to the press release. Price gouging protections are expected to remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 26, the press release states.

Concurrently, price gouging protections invoked by the State of Emergency for Supply Chain Disruptions that began at 12:00 a.m. on April 16, 2022 will remain in effect until 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 9.

“With con artists ready to prey on those impacted by the recent storms, we want to ensure that consumers are aware of their protections under the law and know how to spot a scam,” Attorney General Carr said.

“If your home or business was damaged, we urge you to thoroughly research a contractor before hiring anyone to make repairs. We understand this is a difficult time for many families across our state, and our Consumer Protection Division stands ready to assist any Georgian who thinks they have encountered potential fraud.”

“Unfortunately, bad actors know to target victims at their most vulnerable, such as after a storm-related loss,” Commissioner King added.

“Beware of anyone who shows up at your home or place of business immediately after a storm. Your first call after a disaster should be to your insurance company to file a claim. Whether it’s a contractor or public adjuster, do your research and verify credentials before signing any contracts or agreeing to any services.”

To report contacts and resources associated with home repair, fraud or suspected price gouging, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division by calling 404-651-8600, or file a complaint online at consumer.ga.gov. Suspicious charitable solicitations can be reported to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Charities Division by calling 470-312-2640.

If you believe a roofer or other contractor has committed insurance fraud, file a report with the Insurance Commissioner’s Office at oci.georgia.gov/report-suspected-fraud, or call 404-656-2070 or 1-800-656-2298. If you have trouble making contact with or receiving a timely response from your insurance company, or if you have questions about your insurance policy, call 1-800-656-2298 or visit oci.georgia.gov.

For helpful tips on how to stay weather-aware, visit the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency’s website at https://gema.georgia.gov/plan-prepare/alerts-and-warnings.