Consumer protection hotline now open 24 hours

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) is now staffing its Consumer Protection Hotline 24 hours until further notice to assist Virginia consumers with complaints related to Hurricane Irene. Consumers with complaints about price gouging, scams related to home repair or tree removal, or other consumer-related issues should call 800.552.9963 statewide or 804.786.2042 in the Richmond area.

Matthew J. Lohr, VDACS commissioner, has this advice for consumers in the aftermath of Irene, “Don’t let disaster strike twice; watch out for scam artists.” Lohr says that home repair offers a lot of potential for post-disaster fraud. “The need for repairs is often very pressing and the opportunities cover a wide variety of issues,” he said. He cautions people to be savvy consumers when dealing with issues such as drying carpets, cleaning basements, repairing drywall, fixing roofs, removing debris, cleaning septic tanks and replacing siding, among others.

There are several warning signs of a possible home repair scam. Be especially wary when strangers arrive at your door offering to do repairs; watch out when they claim they have materials left over from a recent job so they can do your job for half of the usual price. Be suspicious about a contractor who refuses to give a written estimate, contract or references, requires a large down payment, asks for full payment before the job is complete or uses a post office box instead of a street address.

In addition to possible home-related scams, consumers should also be alert to fraudulent charitable solicitations which ask the public for money, supposedly in the name of disaster victims. In every sort of scam, high pressure is a very common tactic.  Fraudulent operators want consumers to agree to their proposals immediately, with no opportunity to consider the offer, investigate options or check references. “In a crisis atmosphere where so much needs to be done as quickly as possible, it may be difficult to take time to review offers thoroughly,” said Lohr, “but the extra effort will pay off in the long run.”

To register a complaint, call VDACS’ statewide toll-free consumer hotline at 800.552.9963 and follow the prompts; in the Richmond area, call 804.786.2042. Or check the VDACS website at and click on Consumer Services for additional information.

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