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AG Nessel Warns of Disaster Scams, Re-issues Alerts Ahead of Upcoming Winter Storm
January 11, 2024
LANSING – With meteorologists predicting the season’s heaviest-yet snowfall to occur late this week and into the weekend, and the National Weather Service issuing Winter Storm Watches and Warnings over most of the state beginning Friday morning, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is advising residents to exercise caution not only in travel, but also with their finances. Scammers and price-gougers often arrive after severe weather events to take advantage of vehicle and homeowners, and the Attorney General offers tips and best practices to avoid compounding a weather disaster with financial disaster.
Nessel has re-issued two alerts to help consumers better know their rights and how best to protect themselves from possible scams and fraudsters:
- After the Disaster Scams, and
- Building and Remodeling Advice for Homeowners, featuring a section on emergency repairs.
When homes are damaged by severe weather, the affected homeowners want the damage repaired as soon as possible so they can return to a sense of normalcy. Unfortunately, the 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 can 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 upfront. 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 upfront! 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 upfront and pay for the rest of the work once it is complete to your satisfaction.
“While severe weather may not be predictable, the bad actors and scammers who take advantage of distressed homeowners in the aftermath are. By knowing their tactics and schemes before they come to town, consumers can better protect themselves from those looking to profit unscrupulously from their hardship,” said Nessel. “I encourage Michigan residents to exercise heightened caution when seeking urgent repairs, and to contact my office’s Consumer Protection Team if you believe a business is engaging in fraudulent or unfair behavior in the wake of severe weather.”
Current forecasts indicate a likelihood of heavy snowfall beginning early Friday morning and into Saturday, with expected high winds resulting in blowing and drifting snow. The State of Michigan has information on what to do in the aftermath of a storm on the MIREADY website, including tips on recovering from a disaster.
Those who experience power outages are encouraged to share their outage experience online through the Department’s Outage Feedback Form. Nessel launched the feedback initiative in 2021 to begin gathering information focused on the state’s power companies. The feedback provides valuable insight as she continues to advocate for consumers before the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), which regulates utility companies.
To file a complaint with the Attorney General, or get additional information, contact: