After Houston's storms: How to avoid fraud

Texas authorities are warning the public of fraud and scams in the wake of severe weather, tornadoes and flooding in the state.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said via a statement, "Disasters such as these can unite communities and, as we are seeing, bring out the best in people. However, everyone should be aware of bad actors looking to take advantage of the circumstances."

Paxton's office shared the following tips when in need of businesses or contractors to help in the clean-up and rebuilding process:

  • Only do business with licensed or bonded contractors or builders;

  • Consult the Better Business Bureau to ensure you are working with a trustworthy business.

  • Contact an insurance adjuster to get an estimate of the damage and repair cost;

  • Be wary of contractors who solicit services door-to-door, especially those that are unfamiliar or from out of town;

  • Know that under Texas law, the door-to-door seller must advise you orally and in writing that you have a right to cancel the sale within three days. Click or tap here for more information.

  • Get the salesperson's license plate number;

  • Don't rush into signing a contract, and never pay up-front for promised work;

  • Secure the terms of any warranty work in writing; and

  • Ask for references, or rely on recommendations from friends or relatives who have had experience with honest contractors.

Although Texas' price gouging law prohibits vendors from illegally raising prices to reap exorbitant profits during a disaster, it does allow retailers to pass along wholesale price increases to customers. Thus, in some cases, increased prices may not necessarily signal illegal price gouging.

Gov. Greg Abbott has declared a state of disaster in 45 counties, including: Archer, Bastrop, Blanco, Bosque, Bowie, Caldwell, Cass, Clay, Collin, Comal, Cooke, Denton, Dewitt, Eastland, Fannin, Gaines, Garza, Grayson, Grimes, Harris, Harrison, Hays, Henderson, Hidalgo, Hill, Hood, Houston, Jasper, Johnson, Kendall, Montague, Navarro, Newton, Nueces, Parker, Red River, San Jacinto, Smith, Van Zandt, Walker, Wichita, Williamson, Wilson, Wise and Zavala.

Paxton's office adds that under state law, once the governor issues a declaration, vendors are prohibited from charging exorbitant prices for necessities such as drinking water, food, batteries, generators, towing, clothing, medical supplies, lodging, repair work and fuel during and after the crisis. Currently, Paxton's office says, the disaster declaration prompted by the widespread damage from the heavy rainfall, flooding and tornadoes is effective only in the named counties. Price gouging is illegal, and a disaster declaration triggers stiffer penalties under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

Texans in affected counties who believe they have encountered price gouging should call the Office of the Attorney General's toll-free complaint line at (800) 621-0508 or file a complaint online at null
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