Media alert - Fire Victim Warning

8/24/2012

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Better Business Bureau and HomeBuilders Association Issue Joint Warning to Victims of Recent Fires

(Tulsa) August 17, 2012 – The Better BusinessBureau Serving Eastern Oklahoma and the Home Builders Association of GreaterTulsa issued a joint warning today to victims of Oklahoma’s recent Fires. 

Paul Kane, Executive Officer of the HBA advised victims to becautious and informed during the cleanup and rebuilding process. ““One of theuntold costs associated with disasters like the recent wildfires are losses dueto fraud. Be wary of “fly-by-night” contractors attempting to swindlealready limited resources by offering cheap and quick repair work, if youdecide to hire a professional for the cleanup or repair effort, make sure thecontractor has a permanent business address, carries insurance and has been inoperation for more than one year. In addition, ask for references and doyour homework by researching any record of unresolved complaints. Mostimportantly, get a complete, clearly written contract for the work to be doneand do not pay any cash up front unless you have signed a validcontract.” 

Rick Brinkley, Chief Operating Officer of the BBB Serving EasternOklahoma reminded victims “Following any form of natural disaster scam artistsarrive on the scene to take advantage of those who have the least amount tolose.”  Specifically, Brinkley stated, “Because FEMA and other stateand federal agencies have been and will continue to be providing services tothe victims, everyone needs to be on the lookout for scam artist who are usingthe names of these agencies to take advantage of victims.  In thepast, we have seen scam artists use homemade FEMA IDs and Jackets to visitvictims telling them they are there to help.  All they need is the consumer’sSocial Security Number and Bank Account numbers to transfer funds to assistthem with rebuilding.  The scam artists use the information to drainmoney from the victim’s account and to steal their Identity.”

Some signs that a contractor could be trying to take advantage ofyou:

·       You’re told that on this job, a contract “won’t be necessary.”

·       You’re asked to pay for the entire job “up front” — or pay cash toa salesperson instead of a check or money order to a company.

·       You are confronted with scare tactics, intimidation or threats.

·       You’re told you’ve been “chosen” as a demonstration project at aspecial, low price.

·       You’re told a “special” low price is good only if you sign acontract today.

·       The contractor won’t give you references — or the references can’tbe located.

·       You can’t verify the contractor’s business address.

Both Kane and Brinkley reminded everyone that disasters can strikeat any time and it is best for everyone to be prepared.  Knowing whatto do before, during and after an emergency is a critical part of beingprepared and may make all the difference when seconds count.

Some of the basic protective actions are similar for multipledisasters. For example, safety is necessary when experiencing all hazards.Depending on the specific emergency, this could include plans for sheltering orevacuating. Developing a family communication plan or making an emergencysupply kit are the same for most emergencies, natural disasters and terrorism.However, there are important differences among potential emergencies thatshould influence the decisions you make and the actions you take.

The Better Business Bureau and the Home Builders Associationsuggest having a basic emergency kit with the following essentials in case of adisaster:

Emergency Documents Packet:

·       Social Security card

·       Birth certificate

·       Passport

·       Any other official, hard to replace documents

·       Contact information: Bothyour contact information and your emergency contacts' info. This includes yournearest relatives, your will executor(s), and employers.

·       Will and medical directives: Add acopy of your will/living trust and medical letter of instructions (keep theoriginals with your legal representative). You can upload a PDF file to GoogleDocs for this purpose.

·       Insurance: Homeowners, auto,medical, life, disability, and other insurance agents/brokers contact info andpolicy numbers

·       Financial accounts: Bank,investment, and credit card/loan accounts information, including institutionnames, phone numbers, and account numbers 

·       Health records: Immunization records,allergies, dietary restrictions, medications, medical/surgical treatments

·       Pet information:Description of each pet, vet contact information, and any important medicalnotes

·       Property: Car information, homepurchase papers/deeds, and other home inventory items. Supplies:

·      Water andfood for three days. (One gallon per person per day.)

·      Blankets

·      A manualcan opener

·      First aidkit

·      Dustmask, to help filter contaminated air, and plastic sheeting and duct tape toprovide protection from the outdoor elements

·      Moisttowelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal hygiene purposes

·      Wrench orpliers to turn off utilities

·      Localmaps

·      Smallbattery operated radio with extra batteries or an emergency crank combinationradio, flashlight, and clock device

The BBB and HBA recommend using FEMA’s website athttp://www.ready.gov/ to learn aboutthe potential emergencies that could occur where you live and the appropriateways to respond to them. When you know what to do, you can plan and prepare inadvance to be ready.

The FEMA website provides information about how to protect yourhousehold and begin recovery following the initial disaster. Familiarizeyourself with the signs of events that come without warning and know the localadvance alerts and warnings and how you will receive them. Knowing about thelocal emergency plans for shelter and evacuation, local emergency contacts, thelocations frequented by members of your household and the specific needs ofhousehold members including animals will help you reduce the impact ofdisasters, may save lives and prevent injuries during a crisis.

Natural disasters like tornados, hurricanes, floods, fires andearthquakes can bring out the best in people, as strangers reach out to helpothers in need. Unfortunately, crisis also brings out persons who choose totake advantage of the victims.  Disaster victims should never feelforced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. Forreliable information, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry andBusiness Reviews you can trust on local companies go to www.tulsa.bbb.org.  And,for a list of qualified, insured local contractors and repair professionals,contact the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa at 918-663-5820 or go to www.TulsaHBA.com.

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