Authorities warn of an increase in thefts and frauds following the damage from last week’s winter storm.
The Augusta area, which was hardest hit in the state, is especially susceptible to scams, said Ralph Hudgens, the insurance and fire safety commissioner.
He said he has begun to field complaints about price gouging and unreputable contractors or “fly by night” companies offering repairs and cleanup services.
Be wary of builders or contractors going door-to-door who are not known in the community, he said. Also get several estimates for service before signing a contract. Payments in all cases should be made by credit card or check.
“For heaven’s sake, don’t pay anybody up front for them to buy materials,” Hudgens said. “If they’re not a successful-enough contractor to be able to buy a few materials to do your house, then tell them to move on down the street and leave you alone.”
Glenn Allen, spokesman for the state Insurance and Fire Safety Commission, said the amount of insured losses from the ice storm is expected to be higher than the snowstorm two weeks earlier.
Initial claims for the insured losses from last week’s winter weather are already at $25 million, the total amount of claims from the January storm.
“We fully expect that to rise... anywhere from $10 million to $15 million,” Allen said.
Pam Tucker, the director of Columbia County Emergency and Operations Division, said people in the community are charging to clear yard debris, promising the homeowner will be reimbursed for the cost.
“There is no truth to that,” Tucker said Wednesday in an e-mail.
Columbia County is picking up tree and limb debris at no charge. If a resident does choose to have a professional come in, he is responsible for the costs and will not be reimbursed.
Outside scam artists aren’t the only ones tempted to take advantage of the storm, Hudgens said. As with any natural disaster, he expects the number of investigations into insurance fraud to increase.
Local law enforcement agencies are on alert for the sale of disconnected electrical equipment or downed wires to recycling centers.
Power companies scrambled last week to restore power as quickly as possible, but in the process, they sometimes left behind cables, wires, transformers and other property that could be tempting to collect and sell for cash. Just because it’s left behind on personal property, police say, doesn’t mean it isn’t a crime to sell it.
Richmond County Investigator Kendall Brown said anyone who is caught removing, selling or knowingly receiving power company property will be prosecuted.