Beware the storm damage cleanup scam

Wind took down our tree during Saturday night's storm! photo from Sarah Tappendorf

Wind took down our tree during Saturday night's storm! photo from Sarah Tappendorf

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller says Iowans need to watch for possible scams involving tree trimmers taking advantage of storm victims.

Miller said out-of-state companies and people might be lured into areas damaged by the storm, hoping to make a fast buck.

Some are legitimate, but some complaints have been received about workers taking cash and doing some or none of the work promised.

“Some tree trimmers claim that as soon as you pay them they’ll do the job as promised, but at times these are empty promises,” said Miller.

The scammers often prey on older people.

Miller offers these tips to anyone considering hiring help for storm cleanup:

  • Never pay in advance.  This is a recipe for being cheated by a total scam artist, or even by a local person who doesn’t finish the job.  If at all possible, deal with an established and reputable local business.  Try to deal with a local outfit even if it’s not an established contractor.
  • Check with your insurance carrier about coverage and preferred service providers before obligating yourself to a specific contractor (because some insurance companies may have contractor relationships for disaster situations).
  • Be sure to have a clear understanding of the price, the job to be done, and when.
  • It’s best to have a written contract.
  • It’s good to have a written estimate.
  • It’s crucial to have full agreement on the job to be done (including clean-up).
  • Get professional help if the job is risky to workers or your property.  It may be very important that they are insured.
  • Note that “price-gouging” is by rule an “unfair practice” and consumer fraud violation during declared disasters.   If you suspect price gouging, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.
  • Volunteer to help older neighbors and family members as they deal with contractors (and help make sure no one intimidates them into paying for work that was not done).
  • If you’ve been cheated, file a complaint with local law enforcement and the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.  The website is www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov, and the number is 515-281-5926, or, outside of the Des Moines metro area, toll-free, 1-888-777-4590.


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