Tips to Avoid Hurricane Sandy Scams

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Consumer Assistance Hotline:
(518) 474-8583
(800) 697-1220

New York State Gasoline Price Hotline:
(800) 214-4372


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The New York Department of State warns consumers affected by Hurricane Sandy to beware of price gouging and home improvement, real estate appraisal and charity scams. There are unscrupulous business and scam artists who may try to take advantage of vulnerable storm victims and charitable New Yorkers in the aftermath of a disaster and in the rebuilding process.

Consumers encountering these issues are encouraged to immediately report them to the DOS using the online Consumer Complaint Form or by calling our toll-free hotline at 1-800-697-1220.

Price Gouging
New York State General Business Law prohibits the inflation of the price of necessary goods like food, water, gas, generators, batteries and flashlights, and services like transportation, during natural disasters or other events that disrupt the market. Consumers should report any price gouging they experience to the New York Department of State or to the New York State Office of the Attorney General.

Home Improvement Scams
There are unscrupulous business and scammers who may prey on storm victims seeking to repair their home. The New York Department of State urges people who have experienced storm damage to take certain precautions when cleaning up and making repair decisions.

  • Avoid unlicensed contractors in areas of the State where a license is required (NYC, Nassau, Suffolk, Putnam, Rockland, Westchester). Unlicensed contractors are operating illegally in those areas
  • Avoid contractors who show up at your doorstep unannounced or contact you through telemarketing
  • Avoid contractors who use high-pressure sales pitches or whose promises appear "too good to be true"
  • Avoid contractors who don't supply references or whose references can't be reached
  • Avoid contractors who tell you there's no need for a written contract. By law, all contracts for $500 or more must be in writing, but it's a good idea to get a written contract even for smaller projects
  • Avoid contractors who only have a P.O. Box address or a cell phone number
  • Avoid contractors who do not supply proof of insurance
  • Avoid contractors who ask you to get required building permits. It could mean that the contractor is unlicensed or has a bad track record, and is therefore reluctant to deal with the local building inspector. However, you should verify with your local building department that all necessary permits have been obtained by the contractor
  • Be wary of contractors who ask for money to buy materials before starting the job. Reliable, established contractors can buy materials on credit
  • Avoid contractors who demand payment in cash or want full payment up front, before work has begun. Instead, find a contractor who will agree to a payment schedule providing for an initial down payment and subsequent incremental payments until the work is completed
  • Always withhold final payment until you have completed a final walk through, approved of all the completed work, and all required inspections and certificates of occupancy have been delivered to you

If you have a problem with a home improvement contractor and can't resolve it yourself, you can file a complaint with the New York State Department of State at www.dos.ny.gov or by calling 1-800-697-1220. You can also complain to your local consumer protection office.

Real Estate Appraiser Scams
Home owners may be seeking a real estate appraisal of their home. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when engaging a real estate appraiser:

  • Ask the solicitor for proper licensing identification
  • Compare the licensing identification against the DOS website
  • Report any questionable activities to the local authorities and the Department of State’s Division of Licensing

If you have a problem with a real estate appraiser and can't resolve it yourself, you can file a Licensing complaint with the New York State Department of State or by calling (518) 474-4429. You can also complain to your local consumer protection office.

Charity Scams
The New York Department of State is advising consumers to beware of unfamiliar organizations soliciting funds for victims in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy =and in the rebuilding process. Scammers may seek to gain access to credit card numbers and bank accounts in order to commit identity theft. Unscrupulous charities may also seek donations, even though only a small percentage of the money, if any, will actually be used to assist victims. Past tragedies and natural disasters have demonstrated that some individuals fraudulently solicit contributions for a “good cause.” Similar scams occurred during other disasters such as the tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Here are some helpful tips that you can follow to maximize your assistance:

  • Contribute to known and verifiable charities
  • Beware of callers who want your money fast or use high-pressured tactics
  • Avoid giving cash. Make checks out to the charity not to an individual
  • Ask if the donation is tax deductible
  • Guard against fake solicitations
  • Don’t disclose personal or financial information

Consumers who receive suspicious requests for donations or post-disaster services are encouraged to immediately report them to the DOS using the online Consumer Complaint Form found at www.dos.ny.gov or by calling our toll-free hotline at 1-800-697-1220.

For more information on scam prevention and to view scam alerts, visit the DOS Division of Consumer Protection website.

 


 

Last Modified: November 2, 2012