Consumer alerts issued during storm

Thursday, February 12, 2009

While Sharp County Judge Larry Brown has stated he is proud to see the sense of community the county has shown during the hardship caused by the winter storm, others see it as an opportunity to "get rich quick."

There have been several consumer alerts since the recent ice storm that effected the area. It is hard to find a yard that doesn't have debris and trees scattered. While some residents are capable of cleaning their own yards, there are some who are not or who's damage is too severe.

Many people make their living following severe storms and offering their services, whatever they may be, to the area. In past weeks, crews from all over have moved into the area trying to secure jobs cleaning yards and repairing cable and electrical lines.

While some are honest, hard working individuals, some are not. It is much easier for someone who is not from the area to get away with dishonest behavior because they generally don't hang around for long.

"While we hate to think this sort of thing happens, it does," Judge Brown said. "If it's possible, I would suggest for people to hire local workers." Brown said residents can call their city hall and ask for a list of businesses who are licensed. Brown also suggested that residents hire someone who is insured due to the danger in removing some of the trees and limbs.

Brown warns, that while some have been told that FEMA will reimburse them for purchases or work done, this is not true. There is a process that has to be followed to qualify for assistance and not everyone will qualify.

The Attorney General's (AG) office also issued a warning for storm victims concerning price gouging. The warning stated that price gouging occurs when a business charges substantially more for necessary goods or services than the regular selling price.

The warning went on to explain that when the terrible tornadoes of 1997 hit, Act 376 was passed to prohibit sellers of goods and services that are necessary during an emergency, from price gouging by putting a general 10 percent cap on price increases. According to the Attorney General's office the law goes into effect for at least 30 days when a state of emergency is declared by the government or the president.

The state of Arkansas is under a state of emergency currently, the warning stated, and the Public Protection Department of the Arkansas Attorney General's Office has already received complaints of price gouging. In addition to price gouging, victims of the recent disaster should be on the lookout for individuals trying to turn a hefty, often illegitimate, profit on clean-up and rebuilding efforts, the warning stated.

"Natural disasters bring enough tragedy to Arkansas's families," AG Dustin McDaniel said in the warning. "It is important that people know the law so they can prevent a bad situation from becoming worse."

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