Helena, MT -- State and federal officials are reminding Montanans to be on the alert for swindlers who move in after a disaster and prey on vulnerable disaster victims.
"In the aftermath of a disaster, it is common for unscrupulous people to try to take advantage of victims," said Federal Coordinating Officer Carlos Mitchell. "People need to be aware that con artists will exploit disaster victims by preying on their fears and vulnerability."
"At a time when so many people are under stress as a result of the recent fires, we must be vigilant," noted State Coordinating Officer Jim Greene. "Remember the old saying: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
In particular, people need to watch out for:
- Unlicensed contractors. Unethical, incompetent and dishonest building contractors often seek out disaster victims and attempt to take advantage of them. People with concerns should:
- Call the Montana Department of Labor and Industry at 406-444-7734 to determine if a contractor is registered with the state.
- Be wary of anyone who wants cash or full payment up front.
- Check to see if they have a local address and phone number.
- Check their references.
- Check to see if they have adequate equipment and personnel to perform the job.
- Call the Montana Bar Association at 1-800-310-7029 for help with home repair contracts and contractors.
- Unscrupulous door-to-door sales representatives or workers. If someone comes to your door offering to repair disaster-related damage, you should :
- Conduct business only with established, licensed and insured workers. Check and verify identification.
- Be cautious of company names that sound like those of legitimate businesses. For example, don't confuse "Johnny's Repair Service" with one named "Johnny's Fix-It Service." To avoid problems, check the business name carefully.
- Telemarketers soliciting donations or insurance-related work. Fraudulent telemarketers take advantage of people's stress following disasters. If someone unfamiliar calls asking for donations or soliciting repair work, remember the following rules of thumb:
- Verify their identity and legitimacy.
- Do not provide anyone with your personal information, social security number, credit card number or checking account number unless you contacted them first.
- Never act immediately. Tell them you'll get back to them.
- Check them out with the Telemarketing Fraud Unit at the Montana Department of Commerce, 406-444-9405.
- Report suspected insurance fraud to the Montana State Auditor's Office, Insurance Department, at 1-800-332-6148.
- Never send money or allow a courier to pick up money at your home or office prior to checking out an organization.