Ridgeland, Miss., April 26, 2010 - As local, state and federal officials continue to survey the damage wrought by the series of deadly tornadoes which hit several Mississippi counties on April 24, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Serving Mississippi warns consumers to watch for possible fraudulent appeals for disaster assistance and repair work.
"Mississippians are renowned for their generosity, and disasters such as the one which occurred recently often move people to want to help," said Bill Moak, President of the BBB Serving Mississippi. "However, please make sure that you know the facts before giving money to help disaster recovery efforts, or to make home or business repairs."
Often, scam artists are quick to take advantage of disasters. These may appear in the form of itinerant contractors who promise quick repair work but deliver little or no results; people looking to steal personal information from victims and/or potential donors; and appeals from charities which pull on the heartstrings of people wanting to help.
Here are a few rules of thumb to follow in the wake of the disaster:
- If you are a homeowner affected by the storm, be careful about contractors. When approached by a contractor, ask for proof of licensing and bonding, and remember that most reputable contractors will not demand payment up front. Try to get at least 3-4 quotes from contractors, and insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual. A signed contract is a good idea, especially for costly jobs. If you have access to the Internet, search companies' history at ms.bbb.org or at bbb.org.
- If approached by a charity for money, ask lots of questions and ask for information to be mailed to you before making a decision. Reputable charities will not pressure you into making a decision "on the spot", and will be able to provide you with information about how they have used donations in the past. Charity information may be found at the BBB Mississippi site at ms.bbb.org, the Mississippi Secretary of State's office at www.sos.ms.gov; and the Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org.
- If approached about giving for specific families, it's always a good idea to send a donation not just to a quickly-established bank account, but rather to a known charity which accepts contributions "designated" or restricted for a specific use. Often local churches are providing services to help families get back on their feet, so find out which are helping families in your area.
"In general, we advise people to be skeptical of any offers that seem too good to be true. The very act of asking questions is often sufficient to separate the good guys from the bad," added Moak.