By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange released a written statement to announce that the Attorney General’s office will be vigilant to protect the citizens of Alabama from criminal opportunists who would illegally exploit the Hurricane.
Attorney General Strange said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the many families who may be affected by this storm. I urge our citizens to be cautious of those who would prey upon them through crimes such as price gouging, looting and home repair fraud. I warn the criminals that if they do so, they will be punished.”
Looting is a class C felony in Alabama that is punishable by one to 10 years imprisonment and fines of up to $15,000 for each count. Alabama has recently passed a new tougher looting law.
Since Governor Bentley has declared a State of Emergency in every county of Alabama, the state’s price gouging and looting laws now are in effect throughout the state. Price gouging is generally defined as raising prices by 25% or more over what the items for sale or rent was selling for in the previous 30 days. For example if gas was $3.50 a gallon and a station raises the price to $4.55 (a 30% increase) that would likely constitute gouging unless the price increase was due to a reasonable cost to the seller. The penalty for price gouging is a fine of up to $1,000 per violation. If the defendant is found to have willfully and continuously violated this law they may be prohibited from doing business in Alabama.
Attorney General Strange also warned citizens of potential home repair fraud. As people are rushing to rebuild from severe weather some unscrupulous individuals try to cheat the storm victims. A first offense of home repair fraud is a class A misdemeanor that is punishable by up to one year imprisonment and fines of up to $6,000 for each count. Serial offenses of home fraud are a class C felony that is punishable by one to as many as 10 years imprisonment as well as fines of up to $15,000 for each count.
Attorney General Strange says consumers should take precautions when hiring someone to make repairs. Call 1-800-304-0853 or go to the website www.hblb.alabama.gov to find out if a contractor is licensed. All plumbers and electricians must be licensed by the state. Make sure that the contractor obtains the proper permits and ask to see proof that any contractor is bonded or insured. You can contact the Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau to check if any complaints have been filed against the contractor. Obtain several estimates and get references and be sure to check those references. Do not pay for the full amount of the work in advance and do not make the final payment to any contractor until all the work is completed to your satisfaction. Always demand that any contractor provide a written contract. That contract should include the contractor’s full name, address, and telephone number; a description of the work to be performed; starting and estimated completion dates; and the total cost.
Attorney General Strange urges that consumers and local officials report any problems of alleged fraud, looting or illegal price gouging to their local district attorneys or to his Office of Consumer Protection by calling toll-free 1-800-392-5658, by writing to 501 Washington Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama, 36130, or though the Attorney General’s main web page at: