Storms, scams and schemes: AG issues consumer alert, fraud warning for Kentuckians
FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - For National Consumer Protection Week, Attorney General Daniel Cameron talked with WKYT’s Garrett Wymer about predatory post-storm scamming practices, common fraud schemes in Kentucky and taking steps to avoid falling victim to bad actors.
Preying on storm victims
On Wednesday the Office of the Attorney General issued a consumer alert to warn Kentucky homeowners about the potential for construction- and repair-related scams in the aftermath of last week’s storms.
“They’re in a vulnerable position,” Cameron said. “And we don’t want anyone to be taken advantage of in Kentucky.”
It is common, the Better Business Bureau told WKYT on Tuesday, for out-of-town and unscrupulous contractors to go door-to-door at homes that have suffered storm damage.
[Related coverage: Better Business Bureau warns of storm-chasing scams]
Not all door-to-door contractors are scammers. But still, officials say they may lack proper licensing for our area or offer quick fixes or make promises that they can’t actually meet.
The attorney general’s office has not yet received any scam complaints related to last week’s storms, but it is something they have seen before, so they say it is important to be proactive and know what to watch out for.
“It’s unfortunate that we even have to talk about that, but there are bad actors that will take advantage of any natural disaster or any weather-related disaster that happens in Kentucky,” Cameron said. “We saw this during the midst of the tornadoes that ripped through parts of West Kentucky and we saw this with the flooding in eastern Kentucky.”
The attorney general’s office provided the following tips to avoid falling victim to a contractor-related scam:
- Contact your insurance company.
- If you are insured, discuss your policy coverage and filing requirements with your insurance company.
- Ask your adjuster for an estimate for repair costs.
- Ask your insurance company to recommend reputable contractors to assist with repairs.
- Research contractors or repair companies and get more than one estimate.
- Search for contractors on BBB.org, get a reference from friends or family, and check with your local government agency responsible for registering or licensing contractors.
- Be sure to gather more than one estimate.
- Resist high-pressure sales tactics.
- Scammers often offer “special pricing” if you hire them on the spot. Do not feel forced to make a hasty decision to hire an unknown contractor.
- Be proactive in researching and selecting a contractor instead of reacting to sales calls or door-to-door pitches.
- Do not pay a contractor or business upfront for their services.
- Do not sign insurance checks over to a contractor.
- Be sure to get an invoice from your contractor and pay them directly, preferably with a credit card, so that charges may be disputed, if necessary.
- Review contracts carefully, and do not sign documents that give a contractor the right to your insurance claims.
You can learn more about construction and repair scams here.
Avoiding common scams
It doesn’t happen only after storms.
Frauds and scams are a multibillion-dollar industry across the country. The Federal Trade Commission recently reported that 2.4 million Americans in 2022 reported losing $8.8 billion to fraud - a $2.6 billion increase over the year before.
And statistics show that it hits the wallets of Kentuckians hard. Last year, the Office of the Attorney General says it received 2,167 reports of fraud, totaling nearly $32 million in losses - more than double the amount reported lost in 2021.
“At the end of the day, people’s pocketbooks or the money that’s in their bank accounts are at stake,” Cameron said Friday. “So we want to do everything we possibly can to make sure that we’re protecting that.”
The most common scams that were reported in Kentucky last year were, according to the attorney general’s office:
- Business impersonation scams, in which scammers pose as utility companies or businesses and seek gift card payments or personal, banking or account information.
- Identity theft, in which scammers use a person’s information to open an account, get a lease or loan, obtain services or make a purchase, file taxes, apply for benefits, etc.
- Online purchase scams, in which a scammer uses a fake website to steal money, personal information or financial information.
Kentuckians reported losing the most money in 2022 to scams related to:
- Real estate or rental properties
- Identity theft
- Romance and networking
- Sweepstakes and lotteries
The attorney general’s office provided the following tips to avoid the most common scams:
- For impersonation scams:
- Never share personal information like an account password, Social Security Number or banking information in an email or with an unsolicited caller.
- Never click on links in pop-up boxes or text messages.
- Hang up and call the agency or business directly through a verified phone number.
- For identity theft:
- Beware of phone calls, texts, QR codes, or phishing emails that impersonate a business or government agency and ask for your personal information.
- Consider placing a free “Fraud Alert” on your credit report by contacting any of the three major credit reporting agencies, Experian, Transunion or Equifax.
- Check your credit report regularly. Free credit reports are available at AnnualCreditReport.com.
- For online purchase scams:
- Pay with a credit card whenever possible.
- Never buy anything from online sellers that require payments using gift cards, cash apps, money transfers or cryptocurrency.
- Keep records of your online purchases.
“We just want to make sure we equip people with as much information as possible so they are not being scammed or taken advantage of,” Cameron said.
Encountered a scam? Report it.
Report it to the authorities and learn more using the resources below:
- Contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-888-432-9257.
- Complete the online scam complaint form here.
- Sign up for consumer alerts here.
- Learn more about avoiding scams here.
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