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As communities like ours here in Duplin County begin the process of cleaning up after Hurricane Florence, I urge you to be aware of criminals who will seize this opportunity to prey on our citizens. Many people, especially the elderly, can become victims of scams following a natural disaster.

As people return home to assess the damage from Hurricane Florence, it is common for scammers to show up to take advantage of citizens because they know reputable contractors will be overwhelmed with work. There are often three different types of fraudulent activity that is common following a natural disaster: home repair scams, price gouging, and charity scams.

As your Sheriff, I urge you to keep these important tips in mind before hiring someone to undertake repairs to your home or property:

  • Always get the estimate in writing.
  • Consider getting multiple estimates.
  • Ask for references.
  • Avoid paying money up front.
  • Resist all attempts that force you to make an on-the-spot decision.
  • Never pay in cash.
  • Use local contractors, even if this means being placed on a waitlist.
  • Make sure the contractor is insured.

Home repair scams are common following a disaster such as Hurricane Florence. This form of scam often involves questionable contractors going door to door, offering to do work at low prices in exchange for a deposit.  Once the deposit is obtained, the contractor never returns to complete the work.  Please remember the tips above to avoid becoming a victim of home repair scams.

Also, be aware there is a greater potential for price gouging following a natural disaster. Price gouging occurs when an individual charges excessive prices for goods or services during a state of emergency.  Price gouging is also prohibited by law and civil penalties may apply to individuals engaged in this type of unscrupulous activity.

Finally, please be aware that people pretending to work for charitable organizations may also be fraudulently soliciting donations. Here are a few tips to avoid the fake charity scam:

  • Donate only to charities you know and trust.
  • Do not give or send cash to any organization.
  • Do not give out any personal or financial information.

The citizens of Duplin County must be aware that there is a greater potential for scams following a natural disaster, and you should therefore be extremely cautious when choosing contractors to make repairs, or when donating money to individuals claiming to be calling on behalf of a charity.

If you have a price gouging or home repair scam complaint, please contact the North Carolina Department of Justice toll-free at 1-877-5-NOSCAM or file a complaint online at www.ncdoj.gov/gouging.  You may also contact the United States Department of Justice, National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDP), to report fraudulent activity.  NCDP can be reached toll-free at 877-623-3423, or via email at disaster@leo.gov.