As a homeowner, nothing is more devastating than experiencing a natural disaster Hurricanes in particular can quickly demolish a wide swath of land, leaving uprooted trees, flooded roads and houses that have sustained severe damage in their wake.
When the storm passes, the work begins of determining the amount of damage and the repairs required. If the damage is extensive enough, a state of emergency may be declared which helps provide relief for victims in the area. For the most part, however, it falls on insurance companies and the homeowners themselves to organize any repairs or services needed.
In these cases, there are a few legal issues that can crop up that can potentially add even more problems for homeowners. Price gouging and fraud are two common legal issues that affect victims of hurricanes.
How to Prevent Fraud
During times of emergency, there will inevitably be a few people out there looking to take advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable. Scammers posing as contractors or emergency service providers may ask for payment up front or ask for your banking information before starting repairs. These two requests are an immediate red flag. Dealing with the stress of hurricane cleanup can cloud your judgment, but it’s important to take the following precautions to prevent fraud:
- Never sign any contracts that have blank spaces in them or contracts that you do not fully understand. Always read everything thoroughly to ensure the contract is legitimate. Beware of contractors who try to rush you into signing a contract.
- Never give out your banking or credit card information. If you have evacuated your home, make sure you take all your personal information with you to prevent identity fraud.
- Be wary of contractors who say they are “FEMA Approved.” FEMA does not have a list of approved or endorsed contractors, so this claim indicates fraud.
- Contact government agencies and representatives using official numbers posted on government websites and other official sources.
If you suspect someone of fraud, contact your local emergency management service or the appropriate government agency.
Why is Price Gouging an Issue?
Our free-market economy allows businesses to set their prices based on competition, supply, and demand. Because of this, in times of particular need (such as a hurricane), price gouging is often an issue. We have seen this happen numerous times with products such as fuel, bottled water, hotel rooms, and more. In a state of emergency, the governor has the power to prohibit an increase in the price of products and services that are deemed necessary to preserve life, health, and safety.
When this happens, any price increase that is not considered reasonable due to the higher cost to transport the goods in addition to the necessary retailer markup is subject to a fine that ranges from $2,000.00 to $15,000.00 per infraction. If residents notice price gouging in their area, they are encouraged to report it to the Better Business Bureau, Georgia Bureau of Investigation or Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
Many of these legal issues will affect Savannah residents after the devastation of Hurricane Matthew. In response to this, The Bowen Law Group is offering free legal advice and consultations for all members of the Savannah community affected by Hurricane Matthew. We have years of experience with FEMA benefits and handling insurance fraud and disaster fraud and we can help with all your hurricane-related legal problems. For a free consultation, call us at 912-544-2050 today.