Alabama officials have issued a firm warning for would-be scammers looking for victims during the Hurricane Sally recovery.
“If you are a scammer operating in Baldwin County we are going to prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,” said Robert Wilters, Baldwin County District Attorney, during a press conference in Fairhope on Monday.
Wilters was flanked by more than 20 government officials from Mobile and Baldwin counties, gathered to remind residents to take their time when contracting companies to repair storm damage and be on the lookout for scam artists.
“We took a punch in the gut and as a result we’re dealing with things we aren’t used to,” Wilters said. “One of those things is we have to clean up and recover and when we’re not patient we have a chance to get scammed because we want the work done right now.
“Scammers are looking for that person who is desperate, who needs something done right now,” he said.
So far officials have received 40 complaints of price gouging, most occurring in Baldwin County. The bulk of the complaints concerned inflated prices of gasoline, bottled water, generators, ice and condo and hotel rentals.
Alabama's price gouging law went into effect on Sept. 14 when Governor Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency as Hurricane Sally eyed Baldwin County.
The law makes it illegal for anyone to raise prices on commodities or lodging by more than 25 percent during the declared state of emergency. To calculate that amount, add together the price of the item for the last 30 days, divide by 30, and multiply by . 25, or 25 percent, to figure the maximum price increase allowed for any one day.
Price gouging is punishable by a $1,000 fine for each violation. Repeat offenders may be prohibited from operating in Alabama.
Many of the officials gathered Monday offered tips for homeowners still navigating storm repairs.
The Baldwin County Homebuilders Association said any roofing job amounting to more than $2,500 must be completed by a licensed roofer. Any repair over $10,000 should be completed by someone with an unlimited builder’s license, issued by the state of Alabama. Homeowners should ask to see that license before they sign a contract.
Wilters said homeowners should also demand all workers provide a written contract that details the project cost, timeline, scope of work and materials to be used.
Rep. Matt Simpson (R – Daphne) held the press conference to remind homeowners to proceed with patience and caution as they rebuild from Hurricane Daphne and to announce his intention to re-introduce his bill (HB 194 2020), which passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support earlier this year. The bill died after COVID-19 concerns shuttered legislative sessions.
The bill would strengthen penalties for home repair fraud by making it a Class C felony meaning law enforcement could extradite suspects from other states to face charges in Alabama. Previously these charges were misdemeanors.
“We’ve heard our constituents’ complaints, we’ve heard their concerns,” Simpson said. “We want to make sure law enforcement has the teeth to go after these people and they will with this bill.”