THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF TEXAS
Ken Paxton

Price Gouging, Scams, Charities, and Resources for Help in the Aftermath of Disaster

Texas has been ground zero for some of the nation’s most devastating natural disasters. Whether you’ve been a victim or a neighbor helping others in need, Texans have always responded by coming together in times of crisis. Our office wants to ensure all Texans have access to the disaster relief resources they need, or want to be a part of, and are aware of fraudulent activity surrounding such disasters. Unfortunately, a natural disaster leaves more than uprooted lives in its wake. It also pulls in an army of price gougers, fly-by-night door-to-door contractors, and bogus charities.

Please refer to the information on this page for help with reporting price gouging and scams, FEMA assistance, and information on charities and relief efforts.

Price Gouging

Report Price-Gouging:
Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Toll-Free Hotline
Call: 1-800-621-0508
Email: consumeremergency@oag.texas.gov

Some businesses raise their prices excessively on essential goods and services like drinking water, ice, groceries, fuel, towing, and car and home repairs. Charging excessive prices for necessities in an officially recognized disaster area can constitute price gouging.

Under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, price gouging is illegal, and the Office of the Attorney General has authority to prosecute any business that engages in price gouging after a disaster has been declared by the governor. The attorney general has issued stern warnings about price gouging to businesses in times of disaster, but you should still be on your guard.

If you feel that you are being unfairly charged for goods or services such as drinking water, food, towing, or any other necessity, raise the issue of price gouging with the provider. Speak to them respectfully, but be frank. If you are unable to resolve the matter, file a complaint with our office.

For more information on price gouging, please visit our Consumer Protection page:
www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/cpd/price-gouging

Door-to-Door Repair

After natural disasters, door-to-door salespeople flock to some neighborhoods offering clean up and repair services. While many of these people are honest and reputable, some are not.

Protect yourself and your wallet from unscrupulous operators. If you are insured, call your insurance adjuster and have them make an estimate of the damage and probable repair cost. This will give you a benchmark estimate, prepared by a professional, when you negotiate with contractors.

If someone does come to your door and offers to do repairs, we suggest that you do the following:

  • Get more than one estimate. Don't be pushed into signing a contract right away. Take your time.
  • Check the contractor out with the Better Business Bureau. Ask if there are any complaints about the company.
  • Get references from past customers and check them.
  • Get the salesperson's license plate number.
  • Avoid out-of-town businesses. If the repair job turns out to be substandard, this can make correcting the problem or getting your money back more difficult.
  • Get everything in writing and keep a copy of all documents. The total cost, work to be done, schedule, payment terms, and other expectations should be written in specific detail. A notice of cancellation - giving you the right to change your mind within three business days - must be included if the transaction occurs at your home.
  • Do not sign a contract with blanks. Unscrupulous salespeople could enter unacceptable terms later.
  • Ask for proof of insurance. Make sure that the contractor has disability and workers' compensation insurance. If the contractor is not insured, you could be liable for accidents on your property.
  • Never get too far ahead on the payments. Arrange for an independent agent (insurance adjuster or real estate inspector) to inspect the completed work before you make full payment. If you pay too much up front, the contractor has little incentive to return and finish the job.
  • Find out in writing if the contractor or business will place a lien, security interest or mortgage on your property.
  • Ask for guarantees in writing. If the contractor provides guarantees, they should be written into the contract, clearly stating what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee (the dealer, the contractor, or the manufacturer), and how long the guarantee is valid.
  • Don't sign completion papers or make final payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction. A reputable contractor will not threaten you or pressure you to sign if the job is not finished properly.

In summary, be cautious and take your time.

Be especially suspicious of door-to-door salespeople who make "low-ball" estimates, refuse to leave a contract overnight so you have time to review it, or try to sell their services to you by playing on your emotions.

If you are the victim of a Home Repair Scam or Price Gouging, call the Office of the Attorney General Toll-Free at 1-800-621-0508.

Flood Damaged Vehicles

Following a water-related disaster, it is important to be wary of vehicles for sale that might have suffered flood damage. It is estimated that between 500,000 and one million automobiles were submerged in floodwaters during Hurricane Harvey alone.

In Texas, a seller is required by law to tell prospective buyers about damage to a vehicle. If the damage is from flooding, the words “Flood Damage” must be included on the vehicle’s title. Failure to disclose that information may be a violation of the state’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

Attorney General Paxton and his Consumer Protection Division offer Texans the following tips to protect against buying flood-damaged vehicles:

Look for tell-tale signs of flooding. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles offers a checklist at http://www.txdmv.gov/motorists/buying-or-selling-a-vehicle/title-check-look-before-you-buy/water-damage.

Have the vehicle inspected by an independent, competent automotive technician who has no relation to the seller. Since flood damage is hard to spot, paying an expert mechanic for an inspection provides peace of mind.

Check the vehicle history with a private service that can research insurance claims. Visit the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System for its list of approved providers at  https://www.vehiclehistory.gov/nmvtis_vehiclehistory.html.

Always review the vehicle’s paper title before you buy. Check to see if it has been “branded” as salvaged or damaged.

If you suspect fraud, report it to the Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-621-0508 or by filing an online complaint at https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/cpd/file-a-consumer-complaint.
 

FEMA Disaster Assistance for Texans

Apply for assistance online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA.
Be aware of misleading or false information circulating about assistance in the aftermath of a disaster. To fact check rumors surrounding a disaster, visit FEMA’s webiste at www.fema.gov.

Charities

Salvation Army
1-800-728-7825
www.salvationarmyusa.org
Donation Information

 

Red Cross Hotline
1-800-733-2767
www.RedCross.org

 

In the wake of a natural disaster, you may want to assist by giving to a charity that provides assistance to victims. We commend your generosity, but urge you to make sure your donations go to legitimate organizations.

It is wise to give only to charities you are already familiar with. Most reputable organizations do not directly solicit donations from individual consumers by telephone, email or door-to-door visits. Do not use links embedded in unsolicited emails to access an organization's website.

Research charities before you donate money by using these resources:

  • Charity Navigator: Charity Navigator assesses the finances, accountability, and transparency of more than 9,000 charities.
     
  • The BBB Wise Giving Alliance: The Alliance issues reports on national charities when they receive questions or concerns from a charity's donors. Reports include evaluations of the charity.
     
  • The American Institute of Philanthropy: The AIP is a charity watchdog who helps donors make informed choices.
     
  • Guidestar: Gathers data on more than 850,000 IRS-recognized non-profits.

If you suspect you’ve been targeted by a fraudulent charity or donation scam, file a complaint online with our Consumer Protection Division at: https://texasattorneygeneral.gov/apps/charitable-trusts-complaint-form/

 

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For News and Press Releases from our office, please visit:
www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/news


Hurricane Harvey

The Consumer Protection Division of the attorney general’s office has filed lawsuits and sent warning letters to nearly 130 businesses accused of price gouging in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. It will continue to investigate and prosecute businesses who unlawfully took advantage of vulnerable citizens during this disaster.

If you were a victim of price gouging, home repair or charity scams, or unlawfully sold a flood-damaged vehicle in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, please contact us at 1-800-621-0508 or file a complaint online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/cpd/file-a-consumer-complaint.

Press Releases on Hurricane Harvey

View the lawsuits filed by our office related to Hurricane Harvey: