Watch for spring storm scammers, Hood warns

via Moak: Watch for spring storm scammers, Hood warns, clarionledger.com, 3/7/2016

This may come as a surprise to you who read my columns regularly, but I must confess that I despise the term “scam.” It’s just such an unseemly word, one that makes you feel dirty just saying it, akin to “scum,” “sleaze” or many other words unfit for a family newspaper. The people who do these things were once referred to as “con-artists,” “swindlers,” “hustlers” or “snake-oil salesmen.” Regardless of the context, though, pretty much everybody now understands what we mean when we use the term “scam,” or “scammer.” (By the way, I refuse to use the term “scam artist,” as that would constitute an insult to those who can legitimately claim the title “artist.” Instead, I usually say “scammer” or “crook.”. Sometimes, however, officials use that term as part of a quote, such as Attorney General Jim Hood does below.)

Incidentally (and perhaps fittingly), the word scam itself appears to have an uncertain pedigree. Some sources (such as the Online Etymology Dictionary) suggest the word might have evolved from scamp, typically used to refer to a highway robber, with that term itself arising from scamper (to run away hastily). Etymology aside, we’re stuck with the term.

Hardly a day goes by that my inbox isn’t full of scam warnings of some kind or other. But one last week reminds us that the people who do these types of things are just not operating under direction of what (according to any accepted definition) we’d call a “moral compass.” Scammers will victimize the unwary, uneducated, needy and greedy, but are also no respecter of class, race, educational level, age or status. And they will pounce on people who are at their most vulnerable, as when their lives have been disrupted by storms.

Attorney General Hood cautioned Mississippians last week to be wary of crooks who are trying to prey on disaster victims. And every time a storm passes through, therewillbe victims. “Mississippi has recently been hit hard by storms, everything from tornadoes to hail storms and flash flooding,” Hood said. “In these situations, Mississippians are vulnerable to fraud. I want to ensure that Mississippi storm victims are not victimized by unscrupulous contractors or other scam artists who prey on misfortune.”

Since last week (Feb. 29-March 4) was designated as Severe Weather Preparedness Week, it might be a good idea to brush up on how to recognize a scam. In the wake of a catastrophic weather event, such as a tornado or hurricane, the first few days will be chaotic. People will be in and out of affected areas as they attempt to make repairs, assess the damage and get help. Usually, law enforcement will try to seal off an area from people who have no business being there for a few days, but eventually, the roads will be filled with contractor trucks, disaster relief agency vehicles, trailers and repair crews. This is mostly a good thing, because people need lots of help after a weather-related catastrophe. But among the well-intentioned folks, there are likely to be some scammers, too. What doesn’t help the situation is that, if you have a large hole in your roof, you’ve got to get it fixed pretty fast. There is a lot of pressure on homeowners to make temporary repairs.

Therefore, if somebody comes to your storm-ravaged area and offers to make repairs, here are a few things Hood suggests:

  • Always get more than one estimate. Ensure that all quotes are in writing for the full scope of the work.
  • Have a written home repair contract in place before allowing work to begin. A contractor who won’t put pricing or warranty information in writing may be planning to defraud you.
  • Request references and follow up with these references. Don’t assume that just because a reference is provided that it is a positive one.
  •  Use Mississippi contractors if you can. Verify that the contractor is licensed and insured.
  • Be wary of supposed contractors who come to your home soliciting business. Most reputable contractors will be busy and won’t need to solicit business.

It’s also good advice to take the time to download a copy of a “model contract” before you need it, and formulate your own disaster plan. These and other storm-related resources are available at www.agjimhood.com. And finally, if you’ve been conned or victimized by home repair fraud, call the Consumer Protection Division at (601) 359-4230 or (800) 281-4418.

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