Be Alert For Gasoline Price Gouging, Home Repair Scams, Fraudulent Charities
As New Jersey prepares for Hurricane Irene, it is unfortunately necessary to remind consumers of the ugly truth that disasters often attract con artists and frauds.
The Division of Consumer Affairs advises consumers to be alert for potential abuses including gasoline price gouging, home repair scams, and fraudulent charity solicitations.
Gasoline price gouging:
The Governor's declaration of a State of Emergency activates New Jersey's price gouging law. This law protects consumers who are preparing to evacuate or taking other action to protect themselves before an emergency, or preparing to recover after an emergency.
The law prohibits the sale of merchandise, including fuel, at an "excessive price increase" during the State of Emergency or within 30 days of the termination of the State of Emergency.
An excessive price increase is defined as an increase of 10 or more percent above the price at which the good or service was sold immediately prior to the State of Emergency; or, if there are costs imposed by the seller's supplier or additional costs of providing the goods, a price of 10 percent in the markup from cost, compared to the markup ordinarily applied by the seller.
New Jersey law also prohibits gas stations from changing the retail price of motor fuel more than once in a 24 hour period.
To report violations or complaints, consumers should contact the Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-242-5846 or www.NJConsumerAffairs.com
Home repair scams:
In the wake of severe flooding incidents, fly-by-night home improvement contractors have been known to prey on individuals seeking to repair the damage to their homes. Often offering low prices and speedy work, they may leave consumers with shoddy or unfinished projects and homes that remain unsafe.
Follow these guidelines to protect yourself:
Before hiring a Home Improvement Contractor: Be sure to obtain the contractor's state registration number. Call the Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-242-5846 to learn whether the registration is still valid, and to learn if consumer complaints have been filed against the contractor. Demand a copy of the contractor's liability insurance policy, and call the insurer to learn whether the policy is still valid. Be sure to obtain a written estimate. Do not sign a contract or make a down payment until you are sure the contractor is trustworthy, and you fully understand the terms of the contract.
Fraudulent charity solicitations:
After the March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster that affected Japan, at least one apparently fraudulent charity began sending out emails, misusing the name of a respected charitable organization and asking consumers to send donations via Western Union to a location in the Philippines.
"Investigate before you donate," and follow these guidelines to learn about charities that solicit funds:
Before donating to a charity: Find out whether the charity is registered to solicit funds in New Jersey, or is exempt from registration (certain religious and educational organizations, and charities who raise less than $10,000 annually in contributions, are exempt). Find out how, exactly the charity plans to use your money. Learn how much the charity spent during recent fiscal years on program costs, management costs, and fundraising. Learn about the charity's stated mission. The charity should provide this information to you; you can also obtain it by calling the Division of Consumer Affairs' Charities Registration Hotline at 973-504-6215, or the Charities Registration page at www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov