AG Strange warns against fraud after State of Emergency declared - WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

AG Strange warns against fraud after State of Emergency declared

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(Source: WAFF) (Source: WAFF)
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

With the recent severe weather that struck Alabama, Attorney General Luther Strange pledged that his office will be vigilant in preventing anyone from making a profit from the damages.

Now that a State of Emergency has been declared for every county in Alabama, the state's price gouging law is now in effect throughout the state. Attorney General Strange is reminding citizens that during this time, everyone should be careful of potential home repair fraud.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the many families affected by the storms," said Attorney General Strange. "We are saddened by the loss of life and devastation that our citizens are enduring once again. I urge our citizens to be cautious of those who would prey upon them through crimes such as price gouging and home repair fraud; I warn the criminals that if they do so, they will be punished sternly."

Alabama's price gouging law comes into effect when the Governor declares a State of Emergency, and it assist in prohibiting the "unconscionable pricing" of items for sale or rent. What constitute as unconscionable price is not specifically set forth in state law, but it is determined that a price that is 25 percent or more above the average price charged in the same area within the last 30 days, unless the increase can be attributed to a reasonable cost, is considered as unconscionable pricing. The penalty is a fine of up to $1,000 per violation, and those determined to have willfully and continuously violated the law may be prohibited from doing business in the state.

A first offense for home repair fraud is a class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $6,000 fine for each count. Additional fraud offenses are a class C felony, which is punishable by one to ten years in prison and fines up to $15,000 for each count.

Attorney General Strange cautions consumers to take the following precautions when hiring someone for home repairs:

-Find out as much as you can about the company, especially if they make unsolicited contact with you or have come from out-of-town after a natural disaster.

-Contact the Attorney General's Office or Better Business Bureau to see if the contractor has any complaints that have been filed against him.

-Ask for proof that they are bonded or insured.

-Ask if they are licensed. Certain workers such as plumbers and electricians must be tested to be licensed by the state. Contractors may be required to have a local license if they do major work, but contractors who do small jobs may not need to have a license. To see if a worker is licensed, check with the Alabama Home Builders Licensure Board by calling 1-800-304-0853 or visit their website.

-Ask if a particular job requires a permit. Most home repairs of major significance require a permit. Do not apply for the permit in your name for them to do their job. It could be a sign that they are hiding a bad reputation.

-Obtain several written estimates and beware of estimates that seem "too good to be true".

-Ask for references. Get names and address and call them.

-Have the contractor prepare a written contract. Make sure it includes the contractor's full name, address, and telephone number; a description of the work to be performed; a starting and estimated completion date; and total cost.

-Never make a full payment up front and do not make the final payment until you are satisfied and all subcontractors have been paid.

-Make sure that you have a sure way of contacting them. Be wary if they can only give you a pager number, a cell phone number, or post office box address. Businesses with established addresses are safer to deal with.

Attorney General Strange urges any consumers to report any problems regarding fraud or price gouging to his Office of Consumer Protection by calling toll-free at 1-800-392-5658 or visiting the Attorney General's main web page.

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