(Media release from the Office of Georgia’s Attorney General Chris Carr):
Attorney General Chris Carr and Insurance Commissioner John King are warning consumers whose homes were damaged by the recent flooding in northwest Georgia to be on the lookout for home repair fraud and price gouging.
“With scammers ready to prey on vulnerable storm victims, we want to ensure that Georgians are aware of their protections under the law and know how to spot and avoid a scam,” said Attorney General Carr. “If your home was damaged by the recent flooding, contact your insurance provider and thoroughly research a contractor before hiring anyone to make repairs. We know the aftermath of severe weather can be difficult for those impacted, and we stand ready to assist any Georgian who thinks they may have encountered a storm-related scam.”
“Scammers strike when you are at your most vulnerable, and in the wake of this flooding, the last thing you should have to worry about is being exploited,” said Commissioner King. “Before signing or paying for anything, contact your insurance provider to check what damages may be covered by your insurance policy. Our office has made it a priority to pursue and prosecute these fraudsters, and our office is here to support all Georgians, especially those affected by insurance scams.”
Scam artists, often referred to as “storm chasers,” may ask homeowners for up-front payments for water damage restoration or home repairs and then disappear without ever doing the work. In other cases, scammers may charge exorbitant prices, charge you for unnecessary repairs or do substandard work. Sometimes scammers offer to cover the homeowner’s insurance deductible and persuade him or her to give fake reports to the insurance company, potentially implicating the homeowner in a case of insurance fraud.
The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division offers the following tips to avoid home repair fraud:
- Avoid door-to-door offers for flood damage restoration or home repairs.
- Steer clear of any contractor who asks for full payment up-front, only accepts payment in cash, or who refuses to provide you with a written contract.
- Only hire contractors who are local and are qualified in mold remediation and property restoration. To find local contractors and restorers check with the Society of Cleaning and Restoration Technicians and the Restoration Industry Association.
- Ask contractors for references and check them out.
- Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if they have a good rating and if there are any complaints against the business.
- Get written bids from at least three contractors. Be skeptical if the bid is too low. Cheaper is not necessarily better.
- Always insist on a contract for work to be performed, with all guarantees, warranties and promises in writing.
- Be skeptical of any contractor that offers to pay your insurance deductible or offers other no-cost incentives, as these can be signs of fraud. You should always talk to your insurance company before committing to any repairs.
In addition, the Office of the Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner offers the following tips for Georgians whose homes were affected by a flood:
- Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Floodwaters pick up sewage and chemicals from roads, farms, factories and storage buildings. Spoiled food, flooded cosmetics and medicines are health hazards. When in doubt, throw them out.
- Soaked carpeting and padding should be pulled up and discarded.
- Look before you step. After a flood, the ground and floors are covered with debris, including broken bottles and nails. Floors and stairs that have been covered with mud can be very slippery.
- The use of large fans can speed the drying process and curtail the development of mold.
- Drowning is the number one cause of flood deaths. Most of these drownings occur during flash floods. Six inches of rapidly moving water can knock you off your feet. If you must go through an area where water is standing, use a pole or stick to make sure that the ground is solid under the surface.
- Do not drive through a flooded area. More people drown in their cars than anywhere else. Don’t drive around road barriers – the road or bridge may be washed out.
- Stay away from power lines and electrical wires. Electrocution is also a major killer in floods. Electrical current can travel through water. Report downed power lines to your utility company or local emergency manager.
- If the water level got so high that appliances were soaked, turn off your electricity until they can dry out. Some appliances, such as television sets, can shock you even after they have been unplugged. Don’t use appliances or motors that have gotten wet unless they have been taken apart, cleaned and dried.
- Be alert for gas leaks. Use a flashlight to inspect for damage. Don’t smoke or use candles, lanterns or open flames unless you are sure that the gas has been turned off and the area has been aired out.
- Carbon monoxide exhaust kills. Use a generator or other gasoline-powered machine outdoors. The same goes for camping stoves. Fumes from charcoal are especially deadly – if you must cook with charcoal, use it only outdoors.
- Watch for animals, especially snakes. Small animals that have been flooded out of their homes may seek shelter in yours. Use a pole or stick to poke and turn items over and scare away small animals.
- Are you covered for flood damage? Policies for mobile or manufactured homes may include coverage for flood damage, unlike standard home policies. Owners of traditional site-built homes can purchase federal flood coverage in addition to a standard homeowner’s policy. However, their community must participate in the federal National Flood Insurance Program. A community cannot be covered unless it has joined the program.
- Flood damage to automobiles is covered under the comprehensive portion of an auto policy.
The State of Emergency for Severe Flooding protects consumers in Chattooga and Floyd counties from price gouging. This emergency declaration is currently in effect until 11:59 PM on Oct. 4, 2022. This is in addition to the State of Emergency for Supply Chain Disruptions that currently expires on Oct. 12, 2022.
While the State of Emergency remains in effect, businesses may not charge more for products and services identified by the Governor than they charged before the declaration of the State of Emergency, unless the increased prices accurately reflect an increase in the cost of new stock or the cost to transport it, plus the retailer’s average markup percentage applied during the 10 days immediately prior to the declaration of the State of Emergency. Under the price gouging statutes, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division receives and evaluates reports related to a rise in the cost of goods and services after the declaration is made. Violators of Georgia’s price gouging statutes may be fined up to $5,000 per violation.
If you think you may have been the victim of home repair fraud, file a complaint online with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division or call 404-651-8600 or 1-800-869-1123 (toll-free in Georgia).
Consumers can also report suspected price gouging to the Consumer Protection Division by visiting our website or calling 404-651-8600 or 1-800-869-1123.
If you believe a contractor has committed insurance fraud, file a report with the Office of the Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner at oci.georgia.gov/report-suspected-fraud or call 404-656-2070 or 1-800-656-2298.
Consumers who have trouble making contact with or receiving a timely response from their insurance company or who have questions about their insurance policy can also call 1-800-656-2298 or visit oci.georgia.gov.
For additional tips on how to prepare for and protect yourself from a flood, visit https://gema.georgia.gov/floods-and-flash-floods.