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Scams in Times of Disaster and Emergency

Scams in Times of Disaster and Emergency

While Texans are generally prepared for major weather-related disasters during hurricane season from June through October, occasionally a rogue weather event, such as an artic blast, sweeps across the state causing severe and unanticipated property damage to residential and commercial properties. As individuals and businesses begin the review, repair and reconstruction process, it is as important as ever to remain aware of post-emergency scammers who prey on disaster-stricken property owners and residents.

Price gouging. Price gouging during a state of emergency (such as the one that Texas is currently under) is illegal. The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act defines price gouging as: (a) Selling or leasing fuel, food, medicine, lodging, building materials, construction tools, or another necessity at an exorbitant or excessive price; or (b) Demanding an exorbitant or excessive price in connection with the sale or lease of fuel, food, medicine, lodging, building materials, construction tools, or another necessity. Please note that high prices alone do not mean that price gouging has taken place, as businesses are generally allowed to determine the prices for their products.  However, if a disaster has been declared by the Governor of Texas or the President, and businesses raise the price of their products to exorbitant or excessive rates to take advantage of the disaster declaration, then it is quite likely that price gouging is taking place, and you should file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s office concerning the incident.

Fly-by-night contractors. Natural damage and extensive property damage attract a multitude of contractors offering clean up and repair services. Before signing a contract or paying any contractor, you can take a few steps to protect yourself. Research the individual or company online or ask for references. Get more than one estimate—you do not need to be rushed before signing any contract. Get everything in writing. Ask for proof of insurance. Lastly, if you are insured, ask your insurance adjuster for an estimate of the damage and probably repair cost.

Bogus charities. If you are considering donating money to a charity, make sure the donation is to a legitimate organization and an organization that you are already familiar with. Be wary of door-to-door visits and do not click on links contained in unsolicited emails.

Resources available. For information related to virtually every community resource available to consumers, Dial 211 (the United Way Helpline) This is the largest helpline in the country with access to multiple local and national resources and it is available in multiple languages. Alternatively, you can call a toll-free legal assistance hotline at 800-504-7030.

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