JACKSON, Miss. (WTOK) - Tropical storms and hurricanes can bring storm surges, flooding, and high winds. These storms have the ability to cause massive destruction from hundreds of miles inland.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood issued an advisory Friday encouraging consumers to be cautious when contracting with individuals and businesses for storm clean-up and repairs.
“It is important that Mississippi citizens are aware of how to avoid scams, before and after a disaster situation," said Hood. “Before a storm, consumers should look out for price increases on storm supplies. I have investigators checking prices of emergency supplies such as water and generators, as well as gas prices, across the coastal counties to record pricing in the event price gouging becomes an issue.”
In the aftermath of a tropical storm or any natural disaster, some scammers see this as an opportunity to take advantage of Mississippi residents trying to rebuild their homes and get their lives back to normal.
”We want to remind Mississippians of steps they can take to prevent themselves from being scammed by dishonest contractors and repair people,” General Hood said. “Our office has created a guide that outlines the exact questions to ask when seeking clean up and repairs so that storm victims have one less thing to worry about during this process. Our investigators are also in the coastal counties providing copies of this guide that includes a standard form home repair contract to make sure that people do not fall victim to bad actors.”
Here are several ways Mississippians can be proactive in preparing before the storm:
• Safeguard your personal information files by putting them in a secure, waterproof location such as a safe deposit box or home safe.
• Assemble an emergency supply kit. Supply this kit with flashlights, batteries, cash, first aid supplies, and duplicates of crucial information if evacuation becomes a reality.
• If you are not in an area that is advised to evacuate, supply your home with adequate amounts of food and water in case you lose power for several days. Also consider any special circumstances for individuals with disabilities or the elderly, and plan according to their needs.
• Anyone who suspects price gouging should use their camera phone to capture the price and other evidence and immediately send it to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are some tips to protect you and your loved ones during the disaster recovery process:
• Verify that the company you are considering is insured. Ask for a copy of the certificate of insurance.
• Do your research. Contact our Consumer Protection Division or the Better Business Bureau of Mississippi to see if they have complaints against the company. Ask for several local references, and make sure to follow through on checking them. Look online at reviews of their work.
• Take time to shop around, and be suspicious of any price that seems unusually high or low. Get written estimates from more than one company, and check with friends or family who’ve had tree work done recently to see what they paid and who they recommend.
• Ask how the job will be done and if they will perform the work according to industry standards. For tree removal services, pay attention to the “lingo” such as “topping a tree,” “lion’s-tailing” or “using climbing spikes to prune a tree.” Sometimes these techniques will be presented as a way to save money by removing more of the tree at one time; however, these practices can injure or kill trees, and trees pruned by one of these methods usually requires more expensive restoration work in the future in order to save it.
• Ask about post-job clean up and debris removal. Before the job is started, ask if the company will remove the tree, damaged roof, or other items from your property as well. If you don’t, it could lead to you having to also pay for debris removal.
In the aftermath of any storm, if you suspect home repair fraud or think you may be the victim of a scam, please contact the Office of the Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division at 601-359-4230 or 800-281-4418. For additional tips and services on preparing for possible tropical storms and hurricanes, click the attached link.