Originally in New Bern Sun Journal

October 8, 2018

Attorney General Josh Stein, while visiting the Jacksonville Disaster Recovery Center on Monday, said approximately 800 price gouging complaints have been reported to his office post-Florence.

With the hurricane came hardships for many residents of the 28 affected counties, which include Onslow, Carteret, Craven, Lenoir, Jones, and Duplin. In a press conference held after he checked in on the center’s operations, Stein discussed the dangers posed by price gougers and other scams that disasters often give way to.

“What we cannot allow is for that hardship to be compounded by scam artists coming and taking advantage of them,” Stein said.

There have been approximately 800 price gouging complaints filed with the Attorney General’s office, Stein said. When residents are approached by suspicious tree removal, home repair or persons offering their services with pressure tactics, “they need to be very cautious about doing business with them,” according to Stein.

One business, for example, was charging an area woman $3,000 to remove three trees. Stein said his office was able to go after the company because the woman had the transactions in writing.

“Make sure everything is in writing,” Stein said.

Stein also warned about paying for assistance sign-ups, such as those provided by FEMA. Signing up for assistance, he said, should never cost money. And if people are suspicious, they should take down the agent’s number and check in with the organization that an individual purports to be from.

Onslow County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Chris Thomas said there have been five fraud-related reports to the sheriff’s office relating to FEMA, but no arrests have been made.

Stein said that his office is going after price gougers.

“When we find scammers, my office takes them to court to shut them down,” Stein said.

Both Miller and District Attorney Ernie Lee assured the public they are going after the criminal elements behind the scams.

“We can’t tolerate it,” Lee said. “People are taking advantage of people that are very much hurt.”

Avoid Scams

The Jacksonville Police Department sent out a press release Monday with the following tips for avoiding scams:

  • Avoid businesses that are not local
  • Be wary of businesses or individuals that come to your door or call your phone offering services
  • Be wary of businesses that use high-pressure tactics or try to rush you
  • Compare prices before paying for a service and be wary of contractors charging a lot of money for temporary repairs
  • Obtain a paper copy of any contract or agreement with the price, schedule, company’s information, etc. and keep your receipts
  • Contact your insurance company in case you need an adjuster’s approval before starting work
  • Do not pay in cash and do not pay upfront