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AG Knudsen warns Montanans of scams following severe flooding">AG Knudsen warns Montanans of scams following severe flooding HELENA – Attorney General Austin Knudsen is encouraging Montanans to take precautions and be aware of scammers looking to take …

HELENA – Attorney General Austin Knudsen is encouraging Montanans to take precautions and be aware of scammers looking to take advantage of those beginning to repair their homes and businesses following the state’s recent flooding. It is highly likely that with the severe flooding many Montanans experienced recently will come fraudulent contractors posing as professionals looking to make a quick buck off the misfortune of others.

He’s also warning would-be scammers: The Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation investigates cases of suspected scams which can carry serious punishment for the perpetrator, including prison time. For example, a man was sentenced to a total of 160 years (65 years inmate status followed by 95 years of probation) last year for his multi-county contractor schemes in Montana.

“As homeowners and business owners begin to repair their properties following recent flooding, fraudsters will undoubtedly use this as an opportunity to prey on unsuspecting Montanans. Please, do your homework to avoid scams,” Attorney General Knudsen said. “Scammers who take advantage of Montanans will be investigated, prosecuted, and face the possibility of prison time.”

Prior to finding a contractor or beginning any work, Montanans should contact their home insurance company. For more information on finding a qualified contractor visit the Montana Department of Justice website at https://dojmt.gov/consumer/choosing-a-contractor/.

To avoid becoming the victim of a contractor scam, the Montana Department of Justice’s Office of Consumer Protection suggests:

  • Researching your project: know what the job involves and prepare a detailed list of the work to be done and the types and costs of materials that should be used;
  • Getting the names of several contractors: friends and neighbors who have undertaken similar projects, trade associations, and hardware, building supply and home improvement stores may be good sources of reputable contractors;
  • Checking references: try to get at least three references from actual customers, not just people who know the contractor personally;
  • Getting written bids on your job: get at least two or three written bids for your project; never accept a verbal estimate; and
  • Comparing bids: check carefully to be sure each bid includes everything you want; remember, less reputable contractors may cut corners to lower their bids.

To report a scam, contact the DOJ’s Office of consumer protection at https://app.doj.mt.gov/OCPPortal/?q=node/396, [email protected], or (406) 444-4500 or toll free at (800) 481-6896.

During times of natural disasters, scammers will also pretend to be from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA provides these reminders to avoid an impersonator:

  • Federal and local disaster workers do not solicit or accept money.  Don’t trust anyone who offers financial help and then asks for money or personal information.
  • Do not disclose information to any unsolicited telephone calls and e-mails from individuals claiming to be FEMA or federal employees.  FEMA will not contact you unless you have called FEMA first or applied for assistance.
  • FEMA representatives will ask for social security and bank account numbers when you apply and may ask for it again, after you apply.  Be cautious when giving this information to others who ask for it.  Scam artists may pose as government officials, aid workers, or insurance company employees.
  • Ask to see ID badges.  ALL FEMA representatives carry an identification badge with a photograph.  A FEMA shirt or jacket is not proof of identity.

For more information on FEMA programs and potential FEMA scams visit https://www.fema.gov/assistance/individual/program. The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) also has programs related to natural disasters – find more information at http://dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/water/operations/floodplain-management/disaster-and-recovery.

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