Now that the flood waters are receding and residents are assessing the damage to their homes, the Burlington County Office of Consumer Affairs is alerting homeowners to be extremely wary of the predatory activities of fly-by-night home improvement contractors.
That’s not all.
Natural disasters also often give rise to phony charities who falsely claim to be raising funds to assist victims. And, as if that weren’t enough, warnings about gasoline price gouging are also circulating throughout the state.
“Our residents have spent the last week preparing for and battling the worst that Hurricane Irene had to throw at us,” Freeholder Mary Ann O’Brien said. “Now they have to be prepared for the potential consumer abuses that often arise from these types of emergencies.
“Residents need to guard themselves against scammers posing as legitimate home improvement contractors,” O’Brien added, noting these also include “storm chasers” — those scam artists from other states who descend upon storm victims.
Whether they are approached by contractors or initiating the contact, homeowners should be sure to obtain the contractor’s state registration number. They can then call the County Consumer Affairs Office at 609–265–5054 to find out if the registration is valid and if there is a record of complaints.
“No money should change hands until this information is sought and received,” Consumer Affairs Director Renee Borstad said.
She said that consumers should also contact her office about a questionable charity that asserts it is collecting money to assist hurricane victims.
Finally, on the topic of gas gouging, the law is clear: the law prohibits an excessive price increase of 10 percent or more above the price at which it was sold just prior to the hurricane.
Moreover, New Jersey law prohibits gas stations from changing the retail price of motor fuel more than once in a 24-hour period.
“Anyone with any evidence of price gouging should contact Consumer Affairs immediately,” Borstad said. “We will investigate.”