Attorney General Christine Gregoire and state and federal recovery agencies are warning flood-stricken Wash ington residents not to fall victim to flood-related scams.
"Once the waters recede, scam artists often descend into a flood area," said Gregoire. "They take advantage of people with innocent-sounding offers of help."
The first con artists on the disaster scene are usually questionable contractors who promise immediate or cheap home repair, clean-up or remodeling. Some of these "contractors" are from out-of-state and are not registered to do business in Washington. Their scam is to take money upfront and never do the work, do a shoddy job, or require additional money once the job starts, the Attorney General said.
One of the AG's Consumer Resource Centers Wednesday had reports of a carpet cleaner targeting senior citi zens. The individual reportedly was pressuring people to sign a contract guaranteeing him the job before he would give an estimate. In addition, there were complaints he was wrongly telling flood victims that their insurance companies would cover the damages. He also was distributing a business card with a false contractor's registration number.
Gregoire said this underscores the need for anyone considering hiring a contractor to obtain references, as well as contact the State Department of Labor & Industries at 1-800-647-0982 to verify that the contractor is li censed.
She also urges flood victims to follow some simple steps when hiring people to help with clean-up activities, such things as drying carpets, cleaning basements, repairing drywall, fixing roofs, removing debris, cleaning septic tanks and applying siding:
- Whenever possible, work with a local contractor you know and trust.
- Be cautious with contractors who come to your door or contact you.
- Be especially wary of contractors driving unmarked trucks with out-of-state or no license plates.
- Also, find out whether any complaints have been filed against a contractor by calling the local office of the Better Business Bureau.
- Get repair agreements up front in writing. Never pay any large sums of money in advance and don't make a final payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction.
Gregoire's office is working with the Federal Emergency Management Administration and the Washington State Emergency Management Division to assist flood victims throughout Western Washington.
Washington residents are urged to proceed with caution on all their buying decisions as they recover and rebuild from the recent flooding. To report a flood-related scam or to request a copy of the Attorney General's free handout giving tips and advice on issues and scams facing flood victims, call 1-800-340-5752.
Contact: Sally Sterling, AG's Consumer Protection Division, (206) 464-6431
Janice Marich, AG's Public Affairs Office, (206) 464-6432
[Editor's Note: Flood tips handout available upon request]