Princeton Township officials are warning resident about potential scams in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.
Dishonest home improvement contractors have been known to prey on individuals seeking to repair their homes after severe flooding incidents. They offer low prices and speedy work, but then they may leave consumers with poor or half-finished work, and homes that remain unsafe. Fraudulent charities solicit donations in the wake of disasters, and thieves prey on people by pretending to be emergency workers.
In Ewing last week, two men knocked on a woman’s door and told her they were working for the county. One asked the resident to come to the backyard with him. A few minutes later the homeowner noticed the second man coming out the front door. The men then fled.
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs has issued a disaster scam flyer with pointers for residents, which Princeton Township officials are distributing.
“We have had no reports of this type of fraud in the township, but want to pass along the information to the community,” Sgt. Michael Cifelli said.
Residents are urged consumers to call the Division of Consumer Affairs hotline, 800-242-5846, if they suspect fraud or to learn whether a contractor or purported charity is registered with the state.
The Division of Consumer Affairs offers the following tips:
• Demand identification before you let anyone who claims to be from a utility company inspect your home.
• Never give your credit card number or financial information to strangers over the phone or on the Internet.
• Learn whether the contractor is properly registered with the Division of Consumer Affairs. Call the Division at 800-242-5846, or use the free “New Jersey Professional License Lookup” iPhone app, available by visiting www.NJConsumerAffairs.com.
• Call the Division of Consumer Affairs to learn whether the contractor has been the subject of consumer complaints. You can also check the Division’s online listing of legal filings, at www.NJConsumerAffairs.com/ocp/filings.htm, to learn whetherthe iness has been the subject of legal action by the Division.
• Demand a copy of the contractor’s liability insurance policy, and contact the insurer to make sure the policy is valid.
• It is customary not to pay for the entire home improvement project in advance. Pay one-third beforehand, one-third halfway through, and one-third upon completion.
Information on Charity Scams:
• Before donating to a charity, find out whether the charity is registered to solicit funds in New Jersey, or is exempt from registration (certain religious and educational organizations, and charities who raise less than $10,000 annually in contributions, are exempt).
• Find out how, exactly the charity plans to use your money. Learn how much the charity spent during recent fiscal years on program costs, management costs, and fundraising. Learn about the charity’s stated mission.
• The charity should readily provide all of this information to you. Verify the information by calling the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Charities Registration Hotline at 973-504-6215, or the Charities Registration page at www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov.
Information on Auto Repairs:
Consumers whose cars were damaged by the floods or fallen debris, should:
• Check out auto repair shops by calling Consumer Affairs’ Consumer Service Center and asking about any past actions and/or consumer complaints.
• Get a cost estimate in writing and be sure to remind the mechanic to get your authorization before making repairs not listed on the original repair order. Auto repair shops are required by law to do so.
• If you believe the mechanic has recommended unnecessary work or you are dissatisfied with the estimate, get a second opinion.
• If the work is guaranteed, get all the warranty information in writing on the repair order or bill.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website, www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov, or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.