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Attorney General Peter Kilmartin Warns of Potential Storm Scammers

Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin is warning Rhode Island residents to be wary of price gouging and other possible scams in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

“Although the impact of the storm was less severe than anticipated, there are still many Rhode Islanders without power or who sustained property damage,” said Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin. “We are still in a declared state of emergency, and as such, it is illegal to price gouge. Especially at times like this, it is important for all Rhode Islanders to band together to help neighbors and ensure that no one is taken advantage of.”

Attorney General Kilmartin offers the following tips to help consumers avoid potential scams:

With widespread power outages and downed tree limbs, utility workers are working to clear debris and restore utilities across Rhode Island. Be cautious when allowing workers into your house – any utility worker who is above-board will have identification and will not have a problem showing it to you.

Get all quotes, estimates and work details in writing. This includes a written contract outlining all of the work that the contractor has agreed to perform, the dates the work will begin and is expected to be completed, the total cost of the work, the type and quality of materials to be used, how and when payments will be made and the provisions of warranties on the materials and labor.

Check out a contractor before signing a contract or turning over any money. Homeowners should check with the Rhode Island Contractors’ Registration and Licensing Board by calling (401) 222-1268 to ensure that a contractor is properly licensed and registered.

Be wary of salespeople going door to door offering low cost services or free inspections.

Ask for proof of insurance, and make sure the contractor carries general liability and workers’ compensation. If the contractor is not insured, you may be liable for accidents occurring on your property.

Request a list of references and check them before agreeing to hire anyone.

Avoid high-pressure sales tactics. No reputable contractor will try to pressure you into hiring them.

Never pay large sums in advance, and never pay in cash. Scam artists will take the money and run. If you have to make a partial payment in advance for materials, make the check out to the supplier and the contractor or pay with a credit card.

Talk to your insurance company, read your insurance policy and contact the Division of Business Regulations/Insurance Division at (401) 462-9532 with any concerns.

Report any incidents of price gouging to the Office of Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit. You should be able to identify what you purchased, when and where it was purchased, the price paid and why you feel that price was recently increased.

Rhode Islanders can also use the state 2-1-1 hotline to connect to any services they may need. The easy to remember phone number links callers to a variety of health and human services.

If you believe you are a victim of consumer fraud or price gouging, contact the Rhode Island Office of Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit: download a consumer complaint form at http://www.riag.ri.gov/civil/consumer/, call (401) 274-4400 or email contactus@riag.ri.gov.

About the Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Unit The Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Unit investigates and mediates consumer complaints concerning unfair and unlawful business practices and misleading advertising arising out of alleged violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. If groups of people are victimized by a deceptive trade practice, this office may file in the Superior Court a civil investigative demand, which is a formal investigation. In appropriate cases, a lawsuit to stop the illegal business practice may be initiated.

Apart from carrying out its statutory responsibilities, the Unit also provides information and referral services to the general public. Consumers are directed to the appropriate governmental or private agencies for help in answering specialized questions or resolving disputes that are not within the Unit's jurisdiction.

The Consumer Protection Unit is available to speak to community groups on how to prevent being a victim of identity theft and other scams. If you believe you are a victim of consumer fraud, please contact the Consumer Protection Unit by calling (401) 274-4400 or email at contactus@riag.ri.gov.

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