LANSING – Tornadoes, thunderstorms, wind gusts, and heavy rain caused destruction to Michigan homes and communities this summer. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is warning Michigan residents to beware of scam artists and price-gougers who will try to take advantage of desperate home and vehicle owners.
Nessel wants to remind people of her Advice for Homeowners Consumer Alert. Whatever the type of disaster, when affected homeowners experience damage to their property they want it repaired right away so they can get back to a sense of normalcy. Unfortunately, that rush to repair one’s home often leads otherwise careful consumers to make decisions they would not normally make.
To avoid falling victim to a disaster-related scam, take the following steps:
- Breathe! Take some time to absorb what has happened, and don’t make any rash decisions before doing your homework. This is especially true if you are approached by anyone telling you they can fix your home right away – but only if you accept their “help” right now. Legitimate home repair contractors understand you need time to do your homework and check them out before you pay them anything or sign any contracts.
- Talk to your homeowner’s insurance agent or company. Carefully review your homeowner’s insurance policy to determine what damage may be covered and the amount of your deductible. Then be sure to contact your homeowner’s insurance agent or company, writing down questions you have and the answers that you are provided, along with a list of whom you talked to and when. Knowing what your insurance will cover will help you to determine how much you are able to spend on repairs, and prioritize repairs based on safety and need.
- Do your homework. Do your homework before hiring a home repair contractor by following the tips found in the remainder of this Consumer Alert. Some of our tips include ensuring that the home repair contractor you’ve decided to hire is licensed, insured, well-regarded by your friends and neighbors, and you are comfortable with their complaint history (if one exists).
- Get everything in writing, never pay in cash, and never pay in full upfront. Ensure that all promises, quotes, and expectations are put in writing in a contract that you will carefully review before signing. Paying for a home repair using a credit card is recommended because using credit cards provides you with added protection to dispute a charge if the repair is not completed. Finally, you should never pay for an entire home repair upfront! To ensure that all work is completed in accordance with the contract terms and your expectations, arrange to pay for only part of the work upfront and pay for the rest of the work once it is complete to your satisfaction.
Storm damage also creates an opportunity for utility imposter scams, which is the other alert Nessel is reissuing in response to the forecasts for severe weather. These types of scams often involve a threat to turn off a utility unless the resident pays a certain amount of money in a short amount of time. But scammers can also impersonate a utility company to convince a consumer that a utility – like electricity – can be fixed sooner if they pay an additional fee.
Scammers are now able to create authentic-looking 800 numbers that appear on your phone display. If you’re contacted by someone claiming to be with a utility company, take the following steps to verify authenticity:
- Ask for an estimated restoration time. Legitimate utility companies track their own crews and are able to provide customers with an idea of when the service will be fixed. If the caller provides an estimate, cross-check that with your company’s outage map online.
- If they leave a message, don’t call back. Instead of dialing the number provided by the caller, locate contact information for that company on a recent utility bill and call to confirm if they contacted you in the first place.
- Don’t provide payment information over the phone. Remember, in instances where service is lost, it’s the company’s responsibility to bring it back online. That never includes asking customers for additional payment.
Nessel is also warning consumers about scam artists who may see disaster tragedies as an opportunity to get rich quick. They know people want to help after a disaster, and scammers take advantage of this good will.
“Michigan residents have endured tremendous hardship due to severe weather in recent months, and unfortunately, last night’s storms were once again destructive,” Nessel said. “Our Consumer Protection team remains committed to investigating complaints from anyone who believes bad actors are looking to take advantage of devastating situations.”
Nessel is also reminding people to research contractors if home repairs are needed before paying for a project and alerting drivers to beware of water-damaged vehicles being sold on the used car market.
To file a complaint with the Attorney General, or get additional information, contact:
Consumer Protection Team
P.O. Box 30213 Lansing, MI 48909
Available by phone, from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm Monday – Friday:
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Or online at any time:
Online complaint form
Your connection to consumer protection is just a click or phone call away. The Department provides a library of resources for consumers to review anytime on a variety of topics.