NEWARK, NJ – Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today reminded consumers to beware of home repair scams and charity scams while they recover from the damage caused by violent thunderstorms that led to emergency declarations in Atlantic, Cumberland and Salem counties, and the water main break that led to an emergency declaration in Monmouth County.
“Disasters and emergencies attract their share of con artists and frauds, from fly-by-night home improvement contractors, to fake charities that only seek to line their own pockets,” Attorney General Chiesa said. “New Jersey consumers recovering from water and wind damage should look at every sales pitch and charity solicitation with a critical eye. They have endured enough, without the added outrage of being scammed.”
Attorney General Chiesa noted that dishonest home improvement contractors have been known to prey on individuals seeking to repair their homes after severe emergencies. Offering low prices and speedy service, they may leave consumers with poor or unfinished work, and homes that remain unsafe.
“Con artists thrive in situations when stress levels are high, and consumers feel they must act quickly without closely examining the person they’re doing business with,” said Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. “If you contact the Division of Consumer Affairs, we can help you determine whether a contractor or purported charitable organization is legitimate.”
The Division of Consumer Affairs provides tips for consumers on “How To Avoid Disaster-Related Scams,” including information on price gouging and on the home-repair scams and charity scams that have been known to arise during times of emergency:
- In English at http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/disaster/floodtipsflyer_1.pdf
- And in Spanish at http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/disaster/floodtipsflyerSP_1.pdf
Important tips include:
Information on Home Repair Scams:
- 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.
- 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 whether the business 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:
- 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.
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 or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey ) or 973-504-6200.