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Pennsylvania Attorney General Pappert Warns Consumers About Potential Flood-Related Scams

HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept. 21 -- Pennsylvania Attorney General Jerry Pappert today warned consumers to be wary of potential flood-related scams including fly-by-night contractors or bogus charity appeals that claim to assist flood victims and their families.

"Unfortunately, natural disasters are a breeding ground for a variety of cons and scams that run the gamut from unscrupulous home repair contractors to phony door-to-door pleas for cash to assist 'neighbors' in trouble," Pappert said. "I urge consumers to immediately contact my Bureau of Consumer Protection to report any potential flood-related scams or suspicious solicitations in their communities."

Pappert offered the following tips and advice to consumers seeking home repair work after the recent flooding:

    -- Beware of repair personnel who claim to be certified or affiliated
       with any state or federal emergency program.
    -- Do not allow a contractor, utility company or "inspector" into your
       home without confirming their identity.
    -- Contact your homeowners' insurance agent to inspect your property to
       determine if the damage is covered by your existing policy.
    -- Get several estimates for the same work to avoid possible price
    -- Do not sign a contract for repairs until you and your insurance
       company have agreed on the exact costs.
    -- Never agree to repairs until you have a written contract stating the
       type and quality of work to be done, the costs for labor and supplies
       and a start and completion date for the project.
    -- Do not give a contractor a large down payment.  In many instances, a
       down payment of one-third the total cost may be appropriate, with
       future payments due as the work progresses.
    -- Check county, city or local licensing rules or requirements for
       various contractors including plumbers or electricians.
    -- Never hire a contactor who doesn't have a local business, phone
       number or address, or who refuses to provide references.  Check
       customer satisfaction with the Better Business Bureau.
    -- Inquire about the contents of "disaster relief kits" that are
       available for sale.
    -- Report any suspicious activity to the police or the Attorney
       General's Office.

In addition, Pappert said be extremely cautious in hiring a contractor who is going door-to-door making an on-the-spot offer to repair your home or property right away at an unusually low cost. Reputable contractors will not pressure you to make an immediate decision or suggest that the job can be done without a written contract.

"The most important advice I have for a homeowner is use common sense and give yourself time to make well thought out decisions," Pappert said. "The most common and biggest mistakes occur when homeowners rush into a repair plan because they feel panicked, stressed or pressured."

Pappert said other flood-related scams include bogus pleas for charitable donations to assist neighbors harmed by the disaster. Be careful donating to individuals seeking cash to help families who you are unaware of or who they cannot identify.

Also, if a solicitation is made on behalf of a well known charity, always check with the organization to ensure that it is in fact soliciting in your neighborhood. If a charity does not sound familiar, you can check its registration status by calling the Pennsylvania Department of State at 1-800-732-0999.

Consumers are also reminded that under Pennsylvania law car dealers are required to disclose if a vehicle incurred flood damage. Signs of flood damage include new carpet in an older model used vehicle, dirt or mud in air vents, musty or moldy smell, fluid contamination in oil or transmission containers. Consumers who suspect vehicle flood damage are urged to have their cars inspected by a reputable mechanic.

Flood victims seeking additional information are asked to call Pappert's Bureau of Consumer Protection at 1-800-441-2555. Complaint forms are available by calling the number or visiting

Flood victims in counties that have been approved for federal aid are encouraged to contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to register for disaster assistance. The number to call is 1-800-621-FEMA. The Telecommunications Device for the Deaf and speech-impaired number is 1-800-462-7585.