(DES MOINES, Iowa) Attorney General Tom Miller warns Iowans who experienced tree damage from Saturday’s severe storms and tornadoes to be aware of the possibility of some tree trimmers taking advantage of storm victims.
“Our experience tells us that someone is probably out there right now knocking on doors and looking for storm victims to take advantage of,” said Miller.
Miller noted that previous storm outbreaks have lured out of state people and companies into damaged areas. “Some tree trimmers claim that as soon as you pay them they’ll do the job as promised, but at times these are empty promises,” Miller said. Past consumers have complained about people taking cash but doing only some work or no work at all. Iowans have also complained about tree trimmers promising to remove branches “for firewood,” but they take only large pieces and leave behind the rest.
“People who try to take advantage of storm victims often prey on older Iowans,” Miller said. “We’re asking all Iowans to check with older members of their family and neighbors who may have experienced storm damage and help make sure that no one is taking advantage of them.”
- Never pay in advance. This is a recipe for being cheated by a total scam artist, or even by a local person who doesn't finish the job. If at all possible, deal with an established and reputable local business. Try to deal with a local outfit even if it's not an established contractor.
- Check with your insurance carrier about coverage and preferred service providers before obligating yourself to a specific contractor (because some insurance companies may have contractor relationships for disaster situations).
- Be sure to have a clear understanding of the price, the job to be done, and when.
- It's best to have a written contract.
- It's good to have a written estimate.
- It's crucial to have full agreement on the job to be done (including clean-up).
- Get professional help if the job is risky to workers or your property. It may be very important that they are insured.
- Note that "price-gouging" is by rule an "unfair practice" and consumer fraud violation during declared disasters. If you suspect price gouging, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.
- Volunteer to help older neighbors and family members as they deal with contractors (and help make sure no one intimidates them into paying for work that was not done).
- If you’ve been cheated, file a complaint with local law enforcement and the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. The website is www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov, and the number is 515-281-5926, or, outside of the Des Moines metro area, toll-free, 1-888-777-4590.