Attorney General Warns of Weather Scams
HARRISBURG, PA — Attorney General Linda Kelly today cautioned Pennsylvania consumers and businesses about price gouging and scams following an unusual Spring storm that dumped heavy snowfall on parts of western and northern Pennsylvania.
“Our price-gouging law was designed to guard consumers and businesses against sudden, unwarranted price increases during emergency situations,” Kelly said. “The price gouging restrictions apply to anyone involved in the distribution or sale of consumer goods or services, prohibiting ‘unconscionably excessive’ increases above the average prices observed during the week prior to the emergency.”
Kelly said the Governor’s April 23rd declaration of a statewide disaster emergency triggered the price gouging restrictions, which will extend for 30 days after the expiration of the disaster declaration.
“It is important for everyone – consumers and businesses alike – to understand exactly what constitutes price gouging,” Kelly said. “Price increases for consumer goods or services that are 20% or more above the average prices before this storm are not allowed, except in some very limited situations.”
Kelly said the price gouging law gives the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection the authority to investigate price gouging complaints and allows for penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.
She noted that the emergency price restrictions not only apply to businesses involved in direct consumer sales, but also to manufacturers, suppliers, wholesalers and distributors of consumer products and services.
“I encourage any Pennsylvania consumer or business who feels they are the victims of price-gouging to contact our office so we can thoroughly investigate the situation,” Kelly said.
Kelly said consumers can report potential price-gouging by calling the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline, toll-free, at 1-800-441-2555 or by filing an online consumer complaint using the Attorney General’s website, at www.attorneygeneral.gov (Click on the “Complaints” button on the front page of the website and select “Consumer Complaint Form” from the menu that appears).
Additionally, Kelly urged consumers in storm struck communities to be watchful for scams related to home repair.
“It is natural for homeowners to look for speedy repairs for any storm damage,” Kelly said. “Still, the desire for immediate repairs should not cloud your judgment or research regarding contractors.”
Kelly explained that all home improvement contractors who do more than $5,000 worth of business per year in Pennsylvania are required to register with the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Registration is not an endorsement of the contractor’s honesty or quality of work.
All home improvement and home repair contractors are required to provide consumers with specific information before proceeding with any project, including:
- The contractor’s registration number, which must be included in all contracts, estimates and advertisements.
- A written contract for any project costing more than $500.
- Information about the consumer’s three-day right to cancel a home improvement contract.
- Details about the materials and labor included in the project.
- Total cost of the work.
- An approximate start-date and end-date for the project.
Additionally, Kelly explained that Pennsylvania’s Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act limits the amount of any up-front payments that contractors can collect. For projects costing more than $5,000, contractors may not accept advance payment of more than one-third of the total price of the contract.
Kelly also encouraged consumers to get multiple estimates for any major project, to check references for recent work before committing to a project and to be wary of individuals who approach you with stories of “just being in the neighborhood” or other unsolicited offers that seem “too good to be true.”
Warning signs for potential home repair scams include:
- Unsolicited door-to-door sales pitches.
- Requests for large up-front payments.
- No written estimates or contracts.
- Offers to perform work using “left over” or “discount” materials from other jobs.
- High-pressure sales pitches.
“When consumers understand their rights, they are much better prepared to identify and avoid potential scams,” Kelly said. “If you encounter a contractor who is not providing the information required by Pennsylvania law, we encourage you to file a complaint with our office and consider using another business for your project.”