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For Immediate Release
April 30, 2002
Contact: Sean Caine, 410-576-6357

ATTORNEY GENERAL: CONSUMERS SHOULD BE WARY OF TORNADO-RELATED SCAMS; REPRESENTATIVE OF THE AG WILL BE IN WALDORF TO ASSIST CONSUMERS

Maryland 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.

"Unfortunately, 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."

Curran 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:

Avoiding home repair fraud: Homeowners should first check with their insurance agents to find out the procedures for making a claim. Also:

  • 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.
  • Obtain at least three bids for major repair work and check references. Be cautious if one of the bids is much lower than the others.
  • Make 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 and labor.

Advance-fee 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:

  • 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.
  • Don't believe the promise that bad credit won't keep you from getting a loan
Phony "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:
  • 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.
  • Be aware that fraudulent solicitors may use an organization name similar to established and well-known charitable organizations.
  • Avoid 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.
  • You 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.

If 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.

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Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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