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In the days and weeks following any catastrophic event, such as a Hurricane or the gas explosions in Merrimack Valley, we are uplifted by stories that reflect the generosity and compassion of our neighbors and fellow citizens through acts of kindness.  Sadly, however, there are those fraudsters and thieves who will seize upon such an event to take advantage of people’s natural sympathies and steal their money or their personal information.

The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation therefore reminds all consumers to be on the alert.

  • Home Repair Fraud Contractors often come into these devastated regions seeking quick money by taking advantage of victims.
    • Do business with local and trusted contractors/companies. Conduct your due diligence by checking references. Ask family or friends, and even your insurer, for references before hiring someone.
    • Get quotes from at least a few different contractors and before you hire anyone, make sure they are registered as a Home Improvement Contractor with our Office. Massachusetts law requires any person doing repairs to a 1-4 unit, owner-occupied, primary residence to be registered. If you hire an unregistered contractor and something goes wrong, you will not be eligible for a payment from the Guaranty Fund.
    • Make sure the contractor is properly licensed in MA, and check their history for any complaints by other homeowners.
    • Be sure to have a written contract and check that the name on the contract matches their name under which they are registered with our Office, and licensed with any other agency. Never pay more than 1/3 the total price upfront unless special order materials are needed and have been calculated with the down payment.

 

  • Beware of any Promises for Immediate Clean-up/Debris Removal. If someone is demanding up-front payment or needs you to make a decision on-the-spot, be cautious.
    That is a good indication that they are trying to scam you.

    • Contact your insurance company or agent. Your insurer will want to view your claim, assess the damage properly and walk you through the repair and clean-up process.
    • Check that anyone doing work on your property is licensed and/or insured to do so. The state’s Division of Professional Licensure licenses construction supervisors, electricians and plumbers, among other professions.
    • Check with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to ensure any necessary permits are obtained before work begins.

 

  • Watch Out for Insurance Fraud
    • An insurance adjuster can help homeowners navigate the claims process and obtain the maximum claims payment for damaged property. An insurance company may also have adjusters or hire independent ones and their services are performed free of charge. In Massachusetts, consumers have the choice of hiring a public insurance adjuster.
    • If you hire a public adjuster, be sure they are licensed by the Division of Insurance.
    • Have a signed and dated contract that outlines the services provided and the adjuster’s fee. Keep in mind that if you hire a licensed public adjuster to handle your claim and then change your mind, state law allows you to cancel your contract within three days, subject to any emergency expenses paid by the adjuster during those three (This language should also be in your contract, in bold type!)

 

  • Rental Listing Scams Scammers often advertise rentals that don’t actually exist using images of homes or apartments on public websites.
    • Never sign a lease agreement for a unit you have not seen. Visiting the apartment in person is the only sure way to confirm that it exists, is in livable condition (habitable), and is for rent.
    • Don’t waste your time! If you are communicating with an owner or property manager who always has an excuse for not keeping appointments or showing the property, move on.
    • Never wire money or pay in cash. Keep copies of payments and all signed documents.

 

  • Always Confirm the Identity of the People with Whom You are Dealing
    • Scammers may attempt to pose as officials of the IRS or a utility company, and ask for personal or financial information such as your Social Security number, MA Driver’s License, DOB or financial account numbers. Do not share!
    • All workers going door to door in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover are carrying identification. Don’t be timid about asking to see identification! Don’t hesitate to call the Police department to ask about identification of contractors and other workers.
    • If you are unsure as to why someone would need your personal or financial information, ask. If federal aid becomes available, there are no fees to apply.

 

  • Charitable Contribution Scams
    • Verify the legitimacy of any charity before you donate. Check that the charity or fundraiser is registered in your state by contacting the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, the National Association of State Charity Officials, the Attorney General’s Public Charities Annual Filing website, or your local Police department.
    • Call the charity separately. Find out if the organization is aware of solicitations being made in their name.
    • Never allow a caller to arrange to have someone pick up the check from you at home. Never send cash. Write checks payable to the Charity, not an individual.
    • Do not give out personal or financial information over the phone to unsolicited callers.
    • Funds have been established to help those affected by the explosions. Visit the

We Are Lawrence Resource Guide.

Remember, more often than not, people have good intentions. But protect yourself and be alert! Know how to spot a potential scam to avoid losing more than what you have already lost.

If you have questions or concerns, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s vehicular and customized wheelchair Lemon Laws and Arbitration Programs, Data Breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the MA Do Not Call Registry.

 

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