NEWARK– Governor Chris Christie, Attorney General Paula T. Dow, and the
New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today warned consumers to watch
for home repair scams and charity scams during the post-Hurricane Irene
recovery period.
 
“It is an unfortunate fact that disasters attract their share of con
artists and frauds, from fly-by-night home improvement contractors, to
fake charities that do nothing but line their own pockets,” Governor
Christie said.  “New Jersey consumers recovering from flood and wind
damage should look at every sales pitch and charity solicitation with a
critical eye.  Disaster recovery is enough of an ordeal, without the
added outrage of being scammed.”
 
Governor Christie, Attorney General Dow, and Thomas R. Calcagni,
Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, noted that dishonest home
improvement contractors have been known to prey on individuals seeking
to repair their homes after severe flooding incidents.  Offering low
prices and speedy work, they may leave consumers with poor or
half-finished work, and homes that remain unsafe. 
 
Fraudulent charities also solicit donations in the wake of disasters.
At least one such apparent fraud began after the March 2011 tsunami and
nuclear disaster that affected Japan.  Misusing the name of a respected
charitable organization, the alleged scammer sent out emails asking
consumers to send donations of no less than $300, via Western Union to a
location in the Philippines.
 
“Bad home improvement contractors can leave homeowners with costs in
the tens of thousands of dollars.  Fake charities capitalize on
compassion, to steal money that should go to worthy causes,” Attorney
General Dow said.  “Just as we are investigating allegations of illegal
price-gouging, we will investigate any and every complaint about con
artists, should they attempt to capitalize on the hardships caused by
Hurricane Irene.  We urge consumers to take the first step of being
careful and protecting themselves.”
 
Dow and Calcagni urged consumers to call the Division of Consumer
Affairs hotline, 800-242-5846, if they suspect fraud or to learn whether
a contractor or purported charity is registered with the state.
 
“Con artists thrive in situations when stress levels are high, and
consumers feel they must act quickly without taking a close look at who
it is they’re doing business with,” Director Calcagni said.  “Consumers
should know there is always time to step back and learn about the person
who is asking you for money – whether it’s a contractor you just met, or
a charity calling on the phone.  The Division of Consumer Affairs can
help you determine whether the person, business, or organization is
legitimate.”
 
Information on Home Repair Scams:
 
The Division’s information packet, “Tips For Flood Victims: How to
Avoid Disaster-Related Scams,” available at
www.NJConsumeraffairs.com/press/floodvictims.pdf (and available in
Spanish at www.NJConsumerAffairs.com/press/SPfloodvictims.pdf), includes
the following tips, among others:
 Demand identification before you let anyone who claims to be from a
utility company inspect your home.
Never give your credit card number or financial information to
strangers over the phone or on the Internet.
Learn whether the contractor is properly registered with the Division
of Consumer Affairs. Call the Division at 800-242-5846, or use the free
“New Jersey Professional License Lookup” iPhone app, available by
visiting www.NJConsumerAffairs.com ( http://www.njconsumeraffairs.com/
).
Call the Division of Consumer Affairs to learn whether the contractor
has been the subject of consumer complaints.  You can also check the
Division’s online listing of legal filings, at
www.NJConsumerAffairs.com/ocp/filings.htm, to learn whetherthe iness
has been the subject of legal action by the Division.
Demand a copy of the contractor’s liability insurance policy, and
contact the insurer to make sure the policy is valid.
It is customary not to pay for the entire home improvement project in
advance.  Pay one-third beforehand, one-third halfway through, and
one-third upon completion.

 
Information on Charity Scams:
 
The Division’s Consumer Brief on “Charitable Giving,” available at
www.NJConsumerAffairs.com/brief/charity.pdf (and in Spanish at
www.NJConsumerAffairs.com/espanol/spbrief/charity.pdf), offers the
following tips:
 Before donating to a charity, find out whether the charity is
registered to solicit funds in New Jersey, or is exempt from
registration (certain religious and educational organizations, and
charities who raise less than $10,000 annually in contributions, are
exempt).
Find out how, exactly the charity plans to use your money.  Learn how
much the charity spent during recent fiscal years on program costs,
management costs, and fundraising.  Learn about the charity's stated
mission.
The charity should readily provide all of this information to you.
Verify the information by calling the Division of Consumer Affairs'
Charities Registration Hotline at 973-504-6215, or the Charities
Registration page at www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov (
http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/ ).

 
Information on Auto Repair:
 
Consumers whose cars were damaged by the floods or fallen debris,
should:
 Check out auto repair shops by calling Consumer Affairs' Consumer
Service Center and asking about any past actions and/or consumer
complaints.
Get a cost estimate in writing and be sure to remind the mechanic to
get your authorization before making repairs not listed on the original
repair order. Auto repair shops are required by law to do so.
If you believe the mechanic has recommended unnecessary work or you are
dissatisfied with the estimate, get a second opinion.
If the work is guaranteed, get all the warranty information in writing
on the repair order or bill.

 
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business,
or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with
the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website,
www.NJConsumerAffairs.com ( http://www.njconsumeraffairs.com/ ), or
by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.

 
Follow the Division of Consumer Affairs on Facebook, at
http://www.facebook.com/pages/NJ-Division-of-Consumer-Affairs/112957465445651.


Check our online calendar of upcoming Consumer Outreach events, at
http://www.nj.gov/oag/ca/outreach/.