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AG Nessel Reissues Consumer Alerts Following Severe Weather

LANSING - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is reminding Michigan residents to watch for scammers following recent storm damage in parts of Michigan.

Severe weather swept through Southwest Michigan overnight, bringing down trees and leaving thousands without power in the area. Unfortunately, anytime cleanup efforts are underway scammers look to take advantage of the situation.

In response, Nessel is reissuing two important consumer alerts.

The first is her Advice for Homeowners Consumer Alert. Whatever the type of disaster, affected homeowners want to repair the damage right away to get back to a sense of normalcy. Unfortunately, that rush to repair one's home often leads otherwise careful consumers to make decisions they would not normally make.

To avoid falling victim to a scam, take the following steps: 

  • Breathe! Take some time to absorb what has happened, and don't make any rash decisions before doing your homework.  This is especially true if you are approached by anyone telling you they can fix your home right away - but only if you accept their "help" right now.  Legitimate home repair contractors understand you need time to do your homework and check them out before you pay them anything or sign any contracts. 
  • Talk to your homeowner's insurance agent or company. Carefully review your homeowner's insurance policy to determine what damage may be covered and the amount of your deductible.  Then be sure to contact your homeowner's insurance agent or company, writing down questions you have and the answers that you are provided, along with a list of whom you talked to and when.  Knowing what your insurance will cover will help you to determine how much you are able to spend on repairs, and prioritize repairs based on safety and need. 
  • Do your homework. Do your homework before hiring a home repair contractor by following the tips found in the remainder of this Consumer Alert.  Some of our tips include ensuring that the home repair contractor you've decided to hire is licensed, insured, well-regarded by your friends and neighbors, and you are comfortable with their complaint history (if one exists). 
  • Get everything in writing, never pay in cash, and never pay in full up front. Ensure that all promises, quotes, and expectations are put in writing in a contract that you will carefully review before signing. Paying for a home repair using a credit card is recommended, because using credit cards provides you with added protection to dispute a charge if the repair is not completed.  Finally, you should never pay for an entire home repair up front!  To ensure that all work is completed in accordance with the contract terms and your expectations, arrange to pay for only part of the work up front and pay for the rest of the work once it is complete to your satisfaction. 

Storm damage also creates an opportunity for utility imposter scams, which is the second alert Nessel is reissuing in response to the severe weather.

These types of scams often involve a threat to turn off a utility unless the resident pays a certain amount of money in a short amount of time. But scammers can also impersonate a utility company to convince a consumer a utility - like electricity - can be fixed sooner if they pay an additional fee.

Scammers are now able to create authentic-looking 800 numbers which appear on your phone display.

If you're contacted by someone claiming to be with a utility company, take the following steps to verify authenticity: 

  • Ask for an estimated restoration time. Legitimate utility companies track their own crews and are able to provide customers an idea of when the service will be fixed. If the caller provides an estimate, cross check that with your company's outage map online.  
  • If they leave a message, don't call back. Instead of dialing the number provided by the caller, locate contact information for that company on a recent utility bill and call to confirm if they contacted you in the first place.  
  • Don't provide payment information over the phone. Remember, in instances where service is lost, it's the company's responsibility to bring it back online. That never includes asking customers for additional payment. 

"Education and awareness are the best tools we have to fight against bad actors looking to take advantage of those experiencing hardship," Nessel said. "Our Consumer Protection team is committed to investigating complaints and I encourage people to contact our office if you believe a business or individual is engaging in fraudulent behavior in response to the severe weather."

Earlier this month, Nessel provided an update on warnings she put out following flooding on the east side of the state. Thankfully, the call volume related to that flooding has remained relatively low - a credit to the fact that consumers are educating themselves.

The Department will continue to follow up on complaints received and ensure consumers are being properly treated. If additional action is necessary, the Department will work with the proper agencies to secure accountability.

To file a complaint with the Attorney General, or get additional information, contact:

Consumer Protection Division

P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Fax: 517-241-3771
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form

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