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CONSUMER ALERT: AVOID SCAMS AFTER THE STORM

LITTLE ROCK - Dreams of a white Christmas have turned into post-Christmas nightmares for some Arkansas homeowners who sustained property damage or had downed trees as a result of the Christmas Day winter storm.

Cleanup continues for those Arkansans, who may seek assistance from home-repair professionals or tree-removal specialists. While most contractors are reputable, some may seek to take advantage of consumers in the wake of a disaster by overcharging or failing to deliver on promised work.

These so-called "storm chasers" often go door-to-door through storm-ravaged neighborhoods using high-pressure tactics to try to secure debris-removal or repair jobs. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel urged consumers to be cautious in their selection of contractors. He issued this Consumer Alert today to help protect consumers from being targeted by scammers in the wake of the storm.

"We've seen so many examples of neighbors helping neighbors as they recover from the storm, and while events like this bring out the best in almost all Arkansans, it unfortunately brings out the worst in a few others," McDaniel said. "Hopefully, consumers can avoid those con artists and prevent a bad situation from becoming worse."

McDaniel advised consumers to always obtain estimates from several contractors before paying for work, even if it may be necessary to act quickly. Even during normal circumstances, the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division often receives complaints about tree-trimming services that seem to be vastly overcharging consumers for work. So, getting estimates from at least three different contractors is in a consumer's best interest.

Further, McDaniel encouraged consumers to select contractors they know and trust, whenever possible. Consumers should talk with friends and family to see if they have any recommendations regarding reputable contractors, ask the businesses for references, or check out a business' track record through the Better Business Bureau.

Consumers should also make sure that contracts are put into writing. A contract should indicate exactly what is to be done, the quality of materials to be used and an expected completion date. The contract should always include details about the price and any required financing.

For any payment that requires funds expected to be received from an insurance carrier, consumers should deal with their insurance carriers directly, rather than authorizing the contractor to negotiate with the insurance provider. The Attorney General's Office has pursued litigation against several contractors who have taken insurance proceeds without completing a job.

Finally, consumers should never pay in advance for any type of repair or debris-removal service. A payment plan that involves paying a third in advance, a third while the work is ongoing and a third at the end of the job is preferable. Consumers should always be able to inspect the completed work before final payment.

For more information about "storm chasers" or other consumer-related issues, visit the Consumer Protection Division website at www.GotYourBackArkansas.org or call (800) 482-8982.

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