April 30, 2002
Sean Caine, 410-576-6357
GENERAL: CONSUMERS SHOULD BE WARY OF TORNADO-RELATED SCAMS; REPRESENTATIVE
OF THE AG WILL BE IN WALDORF TO ASSIST CONSUMERS
Attorney J. Joseph Curran, Jr., is warning Marylanders to beware
of home repair scams and other possible consumer fraud which may
surface after the recent tornado touch-downs in Southern Maryland.
A member of his staff will be in Waldorf at the Comptroller's Charles
County Office location, 183 St. Thomas Road in the Smallwood Shopping
Center, to distribute information about disaster-related scams and
to answer consumers' questions.
con artists often try to take advantage of those whose lives have
been affected by storm damage and other disasters," Curran
said. "In many cases, con artists travel state to state, disaster
to disaster, looking for victims of storms."
said that homeowners whose homes have been damaged should be wary
of offers from home contractors who solicit door-to-door after a
storm, especially those who say they will accept only cash payments
or pressure the homeowner for an immediate decision. Curran said
other storm-related scams might include promises of guaranteed loans
for home repairs or solicitations for phony relief efforts. He offered
these tips to consumers:
home repair fraud: Homeowners should first check with their
insurance agents to find out the procedures for making a claim.
Only deal with contractors who have an established local business.
Check to see if the contractor is licensed by the Maryland Home
Improvement Commission by calling (410) 230-6309. You can also
ask the Commission about the contractor's complaint history. Also
check if any complaints have been registered against the contractor
with the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at 1-888-743-0023
toll-free in Maryland or (410) 528-8662.
at least three bids for major repair work and check references.
Be cautious if one of the bids is much lower than the others.
certain that all important details concerning the work are written
into the bid and contract, including: the dates the work will
begin and is expected to be completed, the total cost of the work,
the type and quality of materials to be used, how and when payments
will be made, and the provisions of warranties on the materials
loan scams: You may need a loan to rebuild your home or business.
However, don't be tempted by promises of "guaranteed"
loans that require you to pay upfront fees. You may never get the
loan or see your money again. Tips to protect yourself include:
"disaster relief" charitable solicitations: A number
of legitimate organizations provide assistance and relief to storm
victims. Citizens should contribute only to organizations that they
know well and that willingly provide written information about their
charitable efforts. If you are thinking about contributing:
Legitimate lenders may charge a processing fee, but they don't
guarantee in advance that you will qualify for a loan.
Be wary of ads that give you a 1-900 number to call and require
you to pay a significant amount of money before receiving a loan.
believe the promise that bad credit won't keep you from getting
Check that a charity is registered with the State, as required,
by calling the Maryland Secretary of State's Charities Division
at (410) 974-5534 or 1-800-825-4510. Also report any suspicions
of fraudulent solicitations to the Charities Division.
aware that fraudulent solicitors may use an organization name
similar to established and well-known charitable organizations.
cash donations and make checks payable to the organization, not
to the individual soliciting.
Managing credit: After a storm or flood, many of your belongings
may be temporarily or permanently lost. Jobs may also be lost and
income reduced. Here are tips on how to manage your credit and to
make sure your credit record is not harmed:
If any of your credit cards are missing, call the card issuer
immediately. If you don't have the card issuers' telephone numbers,
you may be able to obtain them by calling directory assistance
or contacting a local card issuing bank.
If you are temporarily out of work due to a storm and are unable
to make payments on your credit cards, call the card issuer and
try to work out a new payment schedule.
may need to use your credit card to cover extra expenses while
you get your life back in order. Do so cautiously. Repaying debt
can take a long time, and exceeding the limit on your credit card
can be expensive.
Cash advances can seem like a convenient way to help you through
a tough financial period, but they are very costly. You will be
charged a transaction fee and interest on the cash advance. There
is usually no grace period, so the interest accrues as soon as
you receive the cash. Most financial institutions may charge higher
interest rates for cash than for purchases on your card.
you have encountered a problem and wish to file a complaint against
a business, contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
at (410) 562-8662 or 1-888-743-0023 toll-free in Maryland.