For immediate release - Wednesday, July 23, 2003.
Contact Bill Brauch - 515-281-8772.
Miller: Avoid Storm-Related
Anti-price gouging rule in effect in Linn and Jackson Counties
DES MOINES. Attorney General Tom Miller warned Eastern Iowans to be wary of consumer scams
that sometimes strike in the wake of natural disasters like this weekend's tornadoes and
severe thunderstorms in eastern Iowa.
"Home repair con-artists sometimes move in after a disaster because the conditions
may give them an edge," Miller said. "There may be hundreds of people who are eager
to get clean-up or repairs done, there may be a shortage of local contractors to do all the
work, there may be money around because of disaster or insurance payments, and
people may be in a rush to get back to normal."
Miller cautioned Iowans to be especially careful about contractors coming to their door
and asking for advance payment for cleanup or repairs. "That's a recipe for rip-off.
They may take your money and run and do little or no work," he said.
"We strongly urge people to work with reputable local contractors who were there
before the storm and will be there after," Miller said. "Get several written estimates,
get a written contract with all details and costs, and never pay large sums in advance to
a contractor you don't know. Those are the cardinal rules to avoid being cheated."
Miller issued consumer tips on how to avoid storm-related scams - listed at the end of
this release. Miller also encouraged consumers to contact the Consumer Protection
by calling 515-281-5926, if they have consumer complaints about questionable
contractors, or about
price-gouging - charging exorbitant and unjustified prices for products or services that
are necessary for disaster victims.
Iowa regulations make price gouging illegal when a disaster declaration is in effect, as
it is in Linn and Jackson counties. (Price gouging is defined in the Attorney General's
Administrative Rule as raising prices unreasonably above the price at which the
merchandise or service was sold in the usual course of business immediately prior to
the onset of the emergency. Types of merchandise and services covered by the Rule
include building materials, and materials, goods or services for clean up or repair. The
Rule recognizes that prices may be higher because sellers also often incur increased
costs. The Rule applies during the emergency declaration and "subsequent recovery
period" up to six months.)
Miller said the Consumer Protection Division sometimes sees other scams that crop up
in connection with natural disasters - charity scams (fraudulently soliciting donations
for bogus charities purportedly to help disaster victims), advance-fee loan scams
(taking money in advance supposedly to arrange a 'guaranteed' loan but never
providing the loan), and con-artists presenting themselves as utility or government
officials to get into people's homes for purposes of theft or other scams.
"Unfortunately, con-artists have earned a reputation for preying on people when they're
down," Miller said. "Cheating storm victims is the definition of adding insult to injury.
People need to be careful as they seek assistance in doing needed repairs."
Miller emphasized that he is hopeful that storm-related consumer scams can be avoided
in Iowa. "Iowans are smart consumers. I'm hoping we have a sufficient number of
reputable local contractors to handle the work. I think the con-artists may conclude that
this is not good territory for them to try their schemes," he said.
"But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to consumer
fraud," Miller said. "We just want Iowans to be careful and use their good common
Miller encouraged consumers to take the following steps to avoid being victimized by a
- Be extremely wary of contractors who
come to you offering repair or clean-up services such as tree-trimming
or debris removal. Legitimate contractors don't generally need to seek
customers. Deal with a reputable local contractor. Be wary of itinerant
contractors using names that sound like local businesses. Check for
local contractors listed in your telephone directory.
- Obtain several estimates and get all estimates in writing.
- Never pay large sums in advance if you don't know the contractor.
If you have to make an advance payment for materials, make your check
out to the supplier and the contractor.
- Check out the contractor before you sign a contract or pay any money.
Ask if the contractor is registered with the Labor Services
Division of Iowa Workforce Development (800-562-4692, ext. 25871), or
check it out online at: www.iowaworkforce.org/labor/contractor.html.
Ask for local references and check them out. Call the Attorney
General's Consumer Protection Division to see if it has any complaints.
- Get all contracts in writing. Before any work begins, agree on a written
contract detailing work to be done, responsibility for permits, costs,
and any other promises. Request a copy of the contractor's liability
insurance certificate. Put start and completion dates in writing and
consequences if the contractor fails to follow them (example: that the
contract could be nullified if the contractor doesn't start on time).
If you sign a contract at your home, in most cases you have three business
days to cancel.
Attorney General Home | News Release Home