Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today offered consumer protection tips following the flooding and other severe weather that affected Ohio this weekend.
“As people across Ohio assess the damage and start the clean-up process, we’re reminding consumers to beware of scams,” Attorney General DeWine said. “Some con artists travel to affected communities to take advantage of people. They offer to help, but once they get your money, they’re gone. After the flooding, we also could start to see flood-damaged vehicles entering the market. We just warn people to be careful.”
Home Repair Scams
Following severe weather, storm-chasing contractors may travel to affected communities to offer their services. In many cases, they visit consumers at their homes and claim they can complete the work immediately. They may ask for a large down payment or tell consumers to sign over their insurance checks, but ultimately they perform shoddy work or no work at all.
Warning signs include:
- Contractors who show up unexpectedly after a storm.
- Contractors with no reputation or a poor reputation.
- Requests for large upfront payments, such as half or more of the total cost.
- Requests for consumers to sign over their insurance check.
- Offers to begin work immediately.
- No written contract outlining the work to be done.
- Door-to-door sellers who don’t notify consumers about their cancellation rights.
Tips to avoid problems include:
- Research businesses carefully. Search for complaints on file with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office or Better Business Bureau, contact past customers, and search the names of the business and the individuals offering services. Don’t accept services from someone who refuses to provide proper identification.
- Check your insurance policy. Determine what coverage you have and what steps you should take.
- Get multiple estimates. For a large clean-up job, consider getting estimates from at least three different contractors. Be wary if one contractor quotes a price that is dramatically lower than the prices other businesses are offering. The contractor later may demand more money or fail to complete the work as promised.
- Don’t make large payments in advance. Be wary of contractors who demand large upfront payments, such as half or more of the total cost. Also be cautious of contractors who ask you to sign over your insurance check. Try to pay in increments, as the work is completed to your satisfaction. Get a written contract detailing the costs, the work to be done, the starting and end dates, and any verbal promises made by the contractor.
- Understand your cancellation rights. If the contract resulted from a door-to-door sale, you generally have three days to cancel the contract, according to Ohio’s Home Solicitation Sales Act. The seller should give you written notice of these rights.
- Consider paying with a credit card. Paying with a credit card generally gives consumers greater protections to dispute unauthorized charges, especially compared to paying in cash.
After extensive flooding occurs, some flood-damaged vehicles ultimately may enter the market. For example, individuals may sell cars online without disclosing flood damage, or dealers may purchase cars at auction without realizing that they were damaged in a flood.
Used-car buyers can help protect themselves by checking vehicle history reports using services such as the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, CARFAX, and the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
History checks may not show the complete background of a vehicle, so consumers also should have the vehicle evaluated by an independent mechanic before making a purchase.
Signs of potential water damage include:
- Stains or odors. Look in the trunk and pull up carpet to see if there is mold, rust, or odor. A musty smell is a strong indicator of water damage. Also, be aware of strong cleaning odors or air fresheners, as these scents can cover up musty odors.
- Dirt. Inspect areas of the car that may be hard to clean, such as the trunk, glove compartment, or dashboard. If you find dirt or rust in these hard-to-reach spots, the car may have been flooded.
- Brittle wires or electrical problems. Problems such as an ignition that does not start or lights that appear foggy or do not work may indicate water damage, especially in conjunction with brittle wires.
Consumers who need help or who want to report a potential scam should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.