TULSA - Two state officials warn unscrupulous contractors trying to cash in on tragedy can sweep in just as quickly as the damaging wildfires people in our community are dealing with right now.
Both the Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner and Attorney General have issued strong warnings and offer help.
Insurance Commissioner John Doak says always contact your insurance agent before hiring anyone to do repairs.
Beware of workers who want more than a third of the contracted amount to make repairs up front.
Doak explains "Many many reputable contractors will be coming in to the area, but there's always an element that is going to try to take as much cash as they can up front and then be gone and we want to avoid that if possible."
The Oklahoma Attorney General's Public Protection Unit also looks out for home repair and charity fraud following natural disasters.
Both agencies recommend you deal with local companies whenever possible, ask for and check references before hiring and get every part of the agreement in writing.
The Oklahoma Insurance Commission 's Anti-Fraud Unit: (800) 522-0071
The Oklahoma Attorney General 's Public Protection Unit: (405) 521-2029
Following is more information from the Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner on protecting yourself after a disaster and how people can prepare before disaster strikes as well as guidelines from the Oklahoma Attorney General:
To prepare for the worst:
- Take a video inventory of everything you would need to have replaced
- Put it in your lock box somewhere away from your residence
- Also keep copies of important documents, including insurance paperwork, in a different location
- If you suffer property damage or loss you can contact the Insurance Commission for help getting in touch with the correct insurance company.
Attorney General Pruitt Warns About Scams Following Wildfires
Attorney General Scott Pruitt issued a warning Monday for Oklahomans affected by the recent wildfires.
"We know from past experience that major property damage after a disaster attracts criminals looking for ways to take advantage," Pruitt said. "We want everyone to be aware of the possible schemes and scams."
The Attorney General's Public Protection Unit monitors and investigates home repair and charity fraud after natural disasters. They pay special attention to repair workers who travel from city to city following disasters.
"Oklahomans will want to rebuild and make repairs as quickly as possible, but we urge them to be cautious and patient. Make sure contractors are reputable," Pruitt said. "Our Public Protection Unit has prosecuted repair workers, commonly called travelers who follow disasters across the country to profit from the misfortune of others."
The Attorney General Pruitt suggests the following tips for choosing a contractor or repair service:
· Ask people you trust for referrals;
· Whenever possible, deal with local firms;
· Check out the repair service with the Attorney General's Public Protection Unit and the Better Business Bureau;
· Ask for customer references;
· Get written estimates from several firms;
· Don't do business without a written contract;
· Get all guarantees, warranties and promises in writing;
· Agree on start and completion dates and have them written into the contract.
The Attorney General also cautioned Oklahomans to be wary of repair services and contractors who:
· Solicit door-to-door;
· Offer discounts for finding other customers;
· "Just happen to have" materials left over from a previous job;
· Accept only cash payments;
· Pressure you for an immediate decision;
· Ask you to pay for the entire job up-front.
Attorney General Pruitt said victims also need to be aware of charity fraud and possible identity theft from lost documents. Charity fraud can happen with local door-to-door solicitations or e-mails and phone calls from overseas con artists.
"The best way to combat this type of fraud is by donating to an organization that is well-known and respected in the community," Pruitt said. "It's also a good idea to look into charities before making donations."
For more information, tips and resources, go online to www.oag.ok.gov/oagweb.nsf/Consumer or call the Public Protection Unit at (405) 521-2029.