Sept. 2, 2021
By Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog
Hurricane Ida tore a path of destruction from the Gulf Coast all the way to New York and New Jersey. The billions of dollars in damage from flooding, wind and tornadoes mean claims, repairs and rebuilding for way too many people. Here are some tips to avoid scams and stay safe in the days and weeks ahead.
Be on guard for price gouging: Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and 32 other states have anti-price gouging laws that protect consumers from prices that are inflated after an emergency. If a business is hiking prices for gas, water, building supplies, food, ice or other needs, people should report it to their state attorney general’s office immediately. A list of contacts for state attorneys general is below.
Use generators with caution: If your electricity is out and you're relying on a generator in your home or someone else's, make sure the generator is outdoors and isn't in any kind of enclosed structure. Authorities along the Gulf Coast are reporting dozens of people hospitalized in separate incidents after being poisoned by carbon monoxide, because generators weren't properly ventilated.
At least a few victims have died.
Also, make sure generators are properly grounded and kept dry and disconnect the power going into your home or building.
Watch out for fraud and scams: After past disasters, con artists have posed as federal employees, insurance agents and housing inspectors to steal information and money. Scam robocalls have promised victims money for simple information. Ask for appropriate identification from anyone who stops by.
Don’t give out personal information such as Social Security numbers, bank account information, policy numbers or anything else to someone you didn’t contact independently.
Remember: FEMA doesn't charge anyone to submit an application.
File claims quickly: Report your claim as soon as possible because insurance companies generally process claims first come, first served, according to the Consumer Federation of America. Also, insurers should not raise your rate for filing a hurricane claim or fail to renew your policy for filing one, CFA said. Make detailed lists of losses, including living expenses and debris removal, and keep all receipts.
- Get estimates: If possible, get multiple estimates from contractors to help you file a claim that will be accurate when it’s time to pay the bill.
Avoid large deposits: Don’t give anyone a large deposit or down payment before they provide their goods or services. Make any deposits by credit card if possible because you have additional protections by law. Never pay in cash or with a wire transfer or gift card.
Vet contractors: Homeowners should use only licensed contractors with verifiable references to work on their property. When interviewing contractors, homeowners should ask for proof of their insurance and bonding, and about their past experience repairing damage from flooding or other disasters and their mold remediation practices. Each state has a Board of Contractors that offers a full list of licensed contractors. Homeowners can also get advice from FEMA.
Make sure your food is safe: Hurricanes and tropical storms carry a lot of dangerous bacteria that can contaminate food or food preparation materials. The basic rule is if food has touched any flood waters, even if it’s still in the packaging, it should be thrown out. Discard any containers with visible damage. Some undamaged food may be salvageable, if it didn’t require refrigeration. Use bottled water until local authorities have confirmed the local water supply is safe. And completely disinfect all food preparation surfaces, utensils, baby bottles, cutting boards, etc
Watch out for identity theft: Identity theft can compound your problems after a hurricane. Storm victims are particularly vulnerable. U.S. law allows anyone to freeze their credit files at no cost. People can find out more here about how to protect themselves from identity theft.
Avoid scammers posing as charities: Con-artists will try to take advantage of someone else's misfortune and people's big hearts by soliciting donations that won't really go to help disaster victims after all. Check out this guide from the Federal Trade Commission on donating wisely and avoiding ripoffs.
How can I report price gouging?
You should report price gouging to the company and your attorney general. Contact information for each state’s Attorney General is listed below.
Online Report Form: https://www.alabamaag.gov/consumercomplaint
Phone Number: 334-242-7335
Online Report Form: http://www.law.state.ak.us/department/civil/consumer/cp_complaint.html
Phone Number: 907-269-5200
Online Report Form: https://consumer-complaint.azag.gov/publiccomplaint/begin.aspx
Phone Number: (602) 542-5763
Online Report Form: https://arkansasag.gov/covid19/report/
Phone Number: (501) 682-2007
Online Report Form: https://oag.ca.gov/contact/consumer-complaint-against-business-or-company
Online Report Form: https://coag.gov/file-complaint/report-consumer-fraud/
Phone Number: 720-508-6000
Online Report Form: https://www.dir.ct.gov/ag/complaint/
Phone Number: 860-808-5420
Online Report Form: https://attorneygeneral.delaware.gov/fraud/cpu/complaint/
Phone Number: (302) 577-8600
Online Report Form: http://www.myfloridalegal.com/Contact.nsf/PriceGouging!OpenForm
Phone Number: (866) 9NO-SCAM
Online Report Form: http://ocp.ga.gov/form/consumer-complaint/step1
Phone Number: (404) 651-8600
Report Form: https://cca.hawaii.gov/ocp/files/2018/02/Complaint-Form-and-Instruction-2018-WEB.pdf
Phone Number: (808) 586-2630
Online Report Form: https://www.ag.idaho.gov/office-resources/online-forms/?form=File%20a%20Complaint&complaint=Consumer%20Complaint
Phone Number: 208-334-2400
Online Report Form: https://ccformsubmission.ilattorneygeneral.net/
Phone Number: 1-800-386-5438 (Chicago)
Línea Gratuita en Español: 1-866-310-8398
Online Report Form: https://indianaattorneygeneral.secure.force.com/ConsumerComplaintForm
Phone Number: 317.232.6330
Online Report Form: https://www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov/for-consumers/file-a-consumer-complaint/complaint-form
Phone Number: 515-281-5926
Online Report Form: https://ag.ks.gov/complaint-center/consumer
Phone Number: (785) 296-3751
Online Report Form: https://secure.kentucky.gov/formservices/AttorneyGeneral/PriceGougingComplaintForm
Phone Number: 1-888-432-9257
Online Report Form: http://www.ag.state.la.us/Form/Consumer/Dispute
Phone Number: 225-326-6465
Online Report Form: https://www.maine.gov/ag/consumer/complaints/complaint_form.shtml
Phone Number: (207) 626-8849
Online Report Form: https://web.oag.state.md.us/editor/customer/onlineformhelpers/formviewer.aspx?filename=MUGeneral.htm
Phone Number: 410-528-8662
Online Report Form: https://www.mass.gov/how-to/file-a-consumer-complaint
Phone Number: (617) 727-8400
Online Report Form: https://secure.ag.state.mi.us/complaints/consumer.aspx
Phone Number: 517-335-7622
Online Report Form: https://www.ag.state.mn.us/Office/Forms/ConsumerAssistanceRequest.asp
Phone Number: (651) 296-3353
Phone Number: 601-359-3680
Online Report Form: http://ago.mo.gov/app/consumercomplaint
Phone Number: 800-392-8222
Online Report Form: https://app.doj.mt.gov/apps/oscar/complaintstart.aspx
Phone Number: 406-444-4500
Online Report Form: https://protectthegoodlife.nebraska.gov/file-consumer-complaint
Phone Number: (800) 727-6432
Online Report Form: http://ag.nv.gov/Complaints/File_Complaint/
Phone Number: (775) 684-1100
Online Report Form (requires registration): https://www.doj.nh.gov/consumer/complaints/index.htm
Phone Number: 603-271-3641
Online Report Form: https://njconsumeraffairs.state.nj.us/file-a-complaint/
Phone Number: 973.504.6200
Online Report Form: https://secure.nmag.gov/ecs
Phone Number: (505) 490-4060:
Online Report Form: https://ag.ny.gov/price-gouging-complaint-form
Phone Number: 1-800-771-7755
Online Report Form: https://ncdoj.gov/file-a-complaint/consumer-complaint/
Phone Number: (877)-5NO-SCAM
Online Report Form: https://attorneygeneral.nd.gov/consumer-resources/consumer-complaints/general-complaint
Phone Number: 1-800-472-2600
Online Report Form: https://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Individuals-and-Families/Consumers/File-A-Complaint.aspx
Phone Number: 800-282-0515
Phone Number: (405) 521-2029
Online Report Form: https://justice.oregon.gov/consumercomplaints/OnlineComplaints/OnlineComplaintForm/en
Phone Number: 503-378-8442
Online Report Form: https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/submit-a-complaint/
Phone Number: 717-787-3391
Online Report Form: https://riag.wufoo.com/forms/q1851amb1bdd4d5/
Phone Number: (401) 274-4400
Online Report Form (requires registration): https://applications.sc.gov/DCAComplaintSystem/Login/ConsumerLogin.aspx
Phone Number: 803-737-3953
Online Report Form: https://atg.sd.gov/complaintform.aspx
Phone Number: (605) 773-4400
Online Report Form (requires registration): https://www.tn.gov/attorneygeneral/working-for-tennessee/consumer/file-a-complaint.html
Phone Number: (615) 741-4737
Online Report Form: http://txoag.force.com/CPDOnlineForm
Phone Number: (800) 621-0508
Online Report Form: https://attorneygeneral.utah.gov/contact/complaint-form/
Phone Number: 1-801-366-0260
Online Report Form: https://agocapcomplaint.atg.state.vt.us/forms/consumer-assistance-program-complaint-form/
Phone Number: (802) 656-3183
Report Form: https://www.oag.state.va.us/consumer-protection/files/PriceGougingComplaintFormOAG.pdf
Phone Number: (804) 786-2042
Online Report Form: https://fortress.wa.gov/atg/formhandler/ago/ComplaintForm.aspx
Phone Number: 1-206-464-6684
Online Report Form: https://ago.wv.gov/Pages/consumercomplaint.aspx
Phone Number: 304-558-8986
Online Report Form: https://datcp.wi.gov/Pages/Programs_Services/FileConsumerComplaint.aspx
Phone Number: (800) 422-7128
Online Report Form: http://ag.wyo.gov/cpu/consumer-complaints
Phone Number: 307-777-6397