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Consumer Alert: Watch out for Storm Repair Scams

Monday, February 10, 2020

If last week’s storms damaged your home or property, don’t let scammers take advantage of you as you try to repair the damage. After most storms our office hears from North Carolinians who have been the victim of of tree removal and disaster cleanup scams. Sadly, when North Carolinians are trying to put their lives back together, businesses and individuals try to rip them off with incomplete work, unfair prices, or pressure sales tactics.

While our office works hard to resolve these complaints, the best way to protect yourself is to follow these tips:

  • Avoid fly-by-night companies. Companies or contractors that knock on your door or that just arrived in town from another state may not stick around to finish the job. Choose local companies with good reputations for the best results.
  • Check out the company. Contact our Consumer Protection Division and the Better Business Bureau to see if they have complaints against the company. Ask the company for local references, and look online for reviews of its work.
  • Don’t let anyone rush you. If an offer is only good “now or never,” find someone else to do the job.
  • Ask about debris removal, too. If you’re looking to remove a fallen tree, will the company remove the tree from your property as well as cut it down? If not, you may wind up having to pay for debris removal.
  • Make sure the company is insured. If a business claims to have insurance, don’t just take their word for it. Contact the insurer directly and ask them to send you a copy of the company’s certificate of insurance.
  • Find out a fair price. Be skeptical of any price that seems unusually high or low. Get and compare written estimates from at least three companies. Check with friends who’ve had similar work completed recently to see what they paid and who they would recommend.
  • Don’t pay upfront. Be very wary of any request to pay deposits or other fees for tree removal or cleanup in advance. Out-of-state tree cutters have been known to collect deposits from entire neighborhoods and then disappear without performing any work. Only pay when the work is done and you are satisfied. Avoid paying with cash; use a check or a credit card instead.
  • Get it in writing. Before work begins, make sure you get a written contract that lists all the work to be performed, its costs and a completion date. Read the contract and make sure it includes any verbal promises you may have received from the contractor.

If a company contacts you and you’re unsure of their authenticity or if you believe that you have been the victim of a scam, contact our office’s Consumer Protection Division at ncdoj.gov/file-a-complaint or 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.