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August 16, 2010

With Floods Come Flood Scams

(DES MOINES, Iowa)  While Iowa flood victims focus on cleaning up the flood aftermath and repairing the damage, Attorney General Tom Miller reminds them to be wary of consumer scams that target victims of natural disasters like flooding.  “Flood victims are often dealing with great losses, tremendous stress, and may be desperate for help,” Miller said.  “They can be prime targets for scam artists.”

Consumers should be wary of clean-up, home repair and construction contractors, especially those who seek business door-to-door and ask for advance payment.  “Flood victims are looking for ways to get back to normal as quickly as possible, and some contractors are only looking for a quick buck,” Miller said.

“Flood victims should seek several written estimates from reputable local contractors they’re familiar with," Miller said. "Get a detailed written contract that discloses all costs before the work starts. Don’t pay a large amount of money in advance to a contractor you don't know."

Recently, Miller reminded Iowans that state regulations make price gouging illegal for those counties where a disaster declaration is in effect. (Price gouging is defined in the Attorney General's Administrative Rule as raising prices unreasonably above the price at which the merchandise or service was sold in the usual course of business immediately prior to the onset of the emergency. The rule, which applies during the emergency declaration and "subsequent recovery period" up to six months, recognizes that prices may be higher because sellers also often incur increased costs.)

Miller encourages consumers to contact the Consumer Protection Division if they have consumer complaints about questionable contractors or about price-gouging:

Phone: 515-281-5926 (toll-free number outside of the Des Moines area: 888-777-4590)

In Iowa, price gouging is charging exorbitant and unjustified prices for products or services that are necessary for disaster victims.

Iowans may also contact the Consumer Protection Division if they see other scams connected with natural disasters, including charity scams (fraudulently soliciting donations for bogus charities purportedly to help disaster victims), advance-fee loan scams (taking money in advance supposedly to arrange a “guaranteed” loan but never providing the loan), and con artists presenting themselves as utility or government officials to get into people's homes for purposes of theft or other scams.

“Con artists should know we’re here to protect Iowans,” Miller said, “and Iowans should know we’re watching for anyone who tries to take advantage of any Iowan who is already suffering from a natural disaster.”


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