In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, with residents in the process of assessing the damage to their homes and property, the Burlington County Office of Consumer Affairs is alerting homeowners to be extremely wary of scams, price gouging and unscrupulous contractors.
“Our residents have spent the last week preparing for and battling Hurricane Sandy,” said Freeholder Mary Ann O’Brien, liaison to the Officer of Consumer Affairs. “After surviving that, they now have to be prepared for the potential consumer abuses that often arise from these types of emergencies.”
County residents should be wary of the predatory activities of fly-by-night home improvement contractors, such as those who go door to door, demand to be paid up-front or paid in cash. Some of these contractors may even suggest the homeowner use a specific adjuster for an insurance claim. Homeowners should be sure to obtain the contractor’s state registration number and then call the county Consumer Affairs Office at 609-265-5054 to find out if the registration is valid and if there is a record of complaints.
Price gouging is a concern as well during the time after a disaster. Consumer Affairs has been alerted about a man driving a truck with out-of-state plates trying to sell generators at outrageous prices.
“We are concerned that this type of price-gouging scam is going on in multiple locations throughout the county,” said O’Brien. “Our residents should not purchase anything from people selling items at inflated prices—particularly from the backs of vehicles.”
The state has issued warnings about gasoline price gouging. The law prohibits an excessive price increase of 10 percent or more above the price at which it was sold just prior to the hurricane. New Jersey law also prohibits gas stations from changing the price of fuel more than once in a 24-hour period.
Natural disasters also often give rise to phony charities who falsely claim to be raising funds to assist victims. Residents should never give credit card or bank account information over the phone or to someone who may knock on their door. The Office of Consumer Affairs should also be contacted about a questionable charity that asserts it is collecting money to assist hurricane victims.
“Residents need to guard themselves against scammers posing as legitimate home improvement contractors,” O’Brien added, noting these also include “storm chasers”—those scam artists from other states who descend upon storm victims.