AARP offering tips to avoid disaster fraud

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CHICAGO - AARP Fraud Network officials are offering tips to help central Illinois residents avoid frauds and scams following a natural disaster.

Unpredictable bouts of severe weather can lead to damage to homes and other property, and AARP Illinois Communications Manager Gerardo Cardenas says individuals who sustain damage to their homes seek to repair the damage as quickly as possible, opening them up to frauds and schemes.  

Officials say these scammers pose as supposed repair workers who show up in impacted neighborhoods.  The scammers will go to homeowners, and tell them that in order to secure them as a contractor, the homeowner needs to provide a cash deposit to save a spot in their busy schedule.  Officials say these scammers often take the money and run.

In order to avoid disaster fraud, AARP officials are offering the following tips to central Illinois residents:

- Ask contractors for references, and call previous clients to verify authenticity.
- Write down the contractor's driver's license and vehicle information, in case you need to notify the authorities.
- Be skeptical of individuals who promise immediate cleanup and debris removal, as those individuals may demand payment up front for work they will never do.
- Get a written estimate, and sign a written contract that includes details of the work being done.
- Read agreements carefully, and never sign a contract with blank spaces.
- Ask your insurer to survey the damage and inquire about approved contractors.
- Never pay in advance, and do not pay in cash.
- Ask your neighbors what they are paying for similar work.
- If you have doubts about hiring someone or entering into a contract, take your business elsewhere.

Officials also say you should report any disaster scams to your local police department and your local Attorney General's office.  For more information, or to receive Fraud Watch Network alerts, visit www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.
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