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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 06, 2007
Consumer Alert: Attorney General warns of possible scams in wake of flood

OLYMPIA – Attorney General Rob McKenna today cautioned Washington residents to beware of possible flood-related scams including fraudulent home repair offers and charity appeals.

“As the flood waters recede, scam artists may move into the area to prey on both victims and those who want to help them,” McKenna said. “Watch out for questionable contractors, phony charity pitches and cons posing as government officials.”

Offers to help with repairs and cleanup
The first con artists on the scene are usually questionable contractors who promise immediate or cheap home repair and cleanup. Some of these workers are from out-of-state and are not registered to do business in Washington. They demand money up front and never do the work, do a shoddy job or require additional money once the job starts.
All contractors who do construction work in Washington must be registered with the state Department of Labor and Industries, post a bond and carry general liability insurance coverage. McKenna said whenever possible, homeowners should work with a local contractor they know and trust. 

Check with Labor and Industries to ensure a contractor you intend to hire is properly registered. You can search online at www.contractors.lni.wa.gov or call 1-800-647-0982.

Compare written bids from several contractors prior to signing a contract. Never pay for the entire job upfront and withhold the final payment until the work is done to your satisfaction.

Avoid contractors who solicit door to door, pressure you for an immediate decision, accept only cash, request all or most of the money upfront, offer an exceptionally low bid or refuse to provide a written contract.
Don’t take a contractor’s word that your insurance company will cover the damage. Check directly with your insurance company. You must have a special flood policy to cover damage from floods or mudslides.

Charity solicitations
Scam artists often take advantage of disaster situations by soliciting donations for a bogus charity.

If you want to help, give directly to a familiar organization such as the Red Cross or Salvation Army. Do not give your credit card number or other personal information in response to a telephone solicitation. Don’t click on links in e-mails – which often send you to bogus Web sites set up by cons who want to steal from you. Watch out for solicitations that bear similar names to legitimate organizations.

You can confirm that a charity is registered with the Secretary of State’s Office by calling 1-800-332-4483 or searching online at www.secstate.wa.gov/charities. In addition, the Secretary of State’s Office today released its annual report on paid fundraisers who solicit donations on behalf of charities.

"In disasters of this magnitude, con artists inevitably emerge taking advantage of people’s remarkable generosity,” Secretary of State Sam Reed said. “I urge all Washington donors to do their homework before they give."

The Attorney General’s Office and Secretary of State’s Office have teamed up with AARP on a campaign called "Operation Check Before You Give. “AARP volunteer Fraud Fighters will contact more than 2,000 consumers to provide tips and tools about wise charitable giving.

Cons posing as government officials
Flood victims should also be on the look out for scam artists pretending to be employed by a government agency or a nonprofit organization that provides emergency assistance.

Cons will sometimes claim to be government officials in order to request cash up front for repairs, telling the homeowners that their insurance money is coming soon. Or they may pretend to assist you in filling out an application for assistance funds but are really identity thieves looking to steal your personal information.
Insist on seeing proper identification from anyone who offers assistance and never provide personal information to an unknown caller or someone who comes to the door.

Flood-damaged cars
It’s possible that some flood-damaged cars may turn up on the market in the coming months. These cars may look normal but almost always have serious problems including chronic mildew and corroded wires that lead to electrical failure. When buying a used car, you should research the title and the vehicle identification number. Carefully inspect the vehicle inside and out and have it inspected by a qualified, independent mechanic.

Report fraud
Report fraud to the Attorney General’s Office by filing a complaint online at www.atg.wa.gov or calling 1-800-551-4636.

Report an unregistered contractor to Labor and Industries by calling the agency’s fraud hotline at 1-888-811-5974 or file a complaint online at www.contractors.lni.wa.gov.

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Media Contact: Kristin Alexander, Media Relations Manager, (206) 464-6432

Note for Broadcast Media: On Friday, we will distribute audio sound bites for radio.

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