In response to Hurricane Irene, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has provided a 24-hour consumer protection hotline to assist Virginia consumers with complaints about price gouging, scams related to home repair, tree removal or other consumer-related issues.
“Don’t let disaster strike twice; watch out for scam artists,” said Matthew J. Lohr, VDACS commissioner, in a press release. Lohr explained that home repair offers potential for post-disaster fraud.
“The need for repairs is often very pressing and the opportunities cover a wide variety of issues,” he said.
Residents need to be cautious when dealing with issues such as drying carpets, cleaning basements, repairing drywall, fixing roofs, removing debris, cleaning septic tanks and replacing siding.
VDACS said there are several warning signs of a possible home repair scam. If strangers arrive at your door offering to do repairs, be wary if they claim they have materials left over from a recent job so they can do your job for half of the usual price.
Be suspicious about a contractor who refuses to give a written estimate, contract or references, requires a large down payment, asks for full payment before the job is complete or uses a post office box instead of a street address, the VDACS advises.
In addition to possible home-related scams, consumers should also be alert to fraudulent charitable solicitations that ask the public for money, supposedly in the name of disaster victims. In every sort of scam, high pressure is a very common tactic. Fraudulent operators want consumers to agree to their proposals immediately, with no opportunity to consider the offer, investigate options or check references.
“In a crisis atmosphere where so much needs to be done as quickly as possible, it may be difficult to take time to review offers thoroughly,” said Lohr, “but the extra effort will pay off in the long run.”
To register a complaint, call VDACS’ statewide toll-free consumer hotline at 800.552.9963 or click here for the VDACS website.