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Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan
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April 21, 2011

*****CONSUMER ALERT*****CONSUMER ALERT*****

MADIGAN WARNS RESIDENTS TO REMAIN ALERT FOR "STORM CHASERS" AFTER SEVERE STORMS AND TORNADOS HIT AREA

Springfield — After a confirmed tornado struck Girard and surrounding areas in Macoupin County and suspected tornados and severe thunderstorms raked much of central and southern Illinois Tuesday evening, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is urging residents to protect themselves from home repair con artists eager to exploit natural disasters for personal profit.

Madigan warned residents with damaged property that home repair scam artists are known to swoop in after storms to take advantage of people scrambling to make repairs. Madigan noted that these “storm chasers” try to catch people when they are desperate and pressure them into making a quick, often expensive, decision.

“Families and businesses are understandably focused on cleaning up and repairing their homes and stores, but it’s critical to be on guard for con artists moving into the area to take advantage of those affected by the severe weather,” Attorney General Madigan said.

Consumers and business owners are reminded to make sure contractors have insurance and required permits. Madigan also urged them to take extra caution before contracting to have damaged or destroyed property repaired or rebuilt and not to rush in to signing a contract or making a down payment.

“It’s understandable that victims want to make everything whole again following natural disasters. Scam artists know how to take advantage of that feeling and try to persuade people to make snap decisions for repairing their home or business,” Attorney General Madigan said.

Madigan offered the following tips to help protect families and businesses from being duped by dishonest contractors:

  • Be wary of contractors who go door to door to offer repair services. Home repair con artists are often transients who move quickly into a troubled area. Ask for recommendations from people you know and trust and, whenever possible, use established local contractors.
  • Call the Attorney General’s Consumer Fraud Hotline to check out a contractor and to find out how many consumer complaints, if any, have been filed against a particular business.
  • Even if there is a need to act quickly, shop around for the best deal. Get written estimates from multiple contractors and don’t be rushed into a deal.
  • Get all of the terms of a contract in writing and obtain a copy of the signed contract. Never make full payment until all the work has been completed to your satisfaction. Never pay in cash.
  • Be aware that you have the right to cancel a contract within three business days if you signed it based on the contractor’s visit to your home.
  • Ask to see required state or local permits or licenses. Insurance adjusters must be licensed by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, Division of Insurance, and roofers must be licensed by the Division of Professional Regulation.

Attorney General Madigan reminded consumers that the Illinois Home Repair and Remodeling Act requires contractors to furnish customers with written contracts for any repair or remodeling work costing more than $1,000. A contract must be signed by both the customer and the contractor.

The law also requires contractors to carry at least minimum amounts of insurance for property damage, bodily injury and improper home repair. Contractors also must provide consumers with an informational pamphlet entitled “Home Repair: Know Your Consumer Rights.”

Residents also should be aware that some scam artists even attempt to impersonate government agencies. In the wake of major storms and tornadoes, media reports have indicated that consumers were called by someone falsely claiming to be associated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requesting bank account information from the consumer that would assist with the repair of their storm-damaged home.

“Consumers should never give out personal or financial information over the telephone,” Attorney General Madigan said. “Legitimate government agencies never call consumers asking for this information.”

More information on consumer scams can be found at www.IllinoisAttorneyGeneral.gov. If consumers suspect storm chasers are attempting to scam residents in their area, Attorney General Madigan urges them to call the Consumer Fraud Hotline at 800-243-0618 (Springfield) or 800-243-0607 (Carbondale)

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