How tornado-affected Oklahomans can avoid scams

Dana Ulepich searches inside a room left standing at the back of her house destroyed after a powerful tornado ripped through Moore, Okla., May 20, 2013. Brett Deering/Getty Images

Oklahoma has a long road to recovery after a massive and fatal tornado struck the city of Moore Monday afternoon. Many residents will have to rebuild from scratch, their homes obliterated by winds believed to have reached 200 mph.

Federal and local officials, as well as volunteers, have rushed to the area to help. But tragedy, unfortunately, also provides the opportunity for scammers to take advantage of the needy and desperate. Criminals often travel to the area of such tragedies to offer "services" in clean-up, home repair, debris removal and tree-trimming, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt warns.

"Home and business owners will want to quickly repair their property, but we urge them to be cautious and patient and to use reputable contractors," Pruitt said in a release. "We ask that residents pay particular attention to criminals known as 'travelers' who go from one community to the next to take advantage of vulnerable Oklahomans."

Pruitt says 30 investigators have been dispatched to the area to help tornado victims avoid fraud. There are also signs Moore residents should keep in mind when dealing with contractors and repair services. Homeowners should be wary of contractors who:

  • Solicit for work door-to-door
  • Offer discounts for finding other customers
  • "Just happen to have" materials left over from a previous job
  • Accept only cash payments
  • Pressure you for an immediate decision
  • Ask you to pay for the entire job up-front

The Attorney General's Office offers the following tips when choosing a contractor or repair service:

  • Ask for referrals from people you trust
  • Try to do business with local companies
  • Request to see proof of certification and insurance
  • Check out the repair service with the AG's Public Protection Unit and the Better Business Bureau
  • Ask for customer references
  • Get written estimates from several companies
  • Don't do business without a written contract
  • Get all guarantees, warranties and promises in writing
  • Agree on start and completion dates, and have them in the contract

Volunteers and others who want to pitch into the recovery effort also should be careful of charity fraud and make sure their money is well spent. Click here for a list of reputable charities to donate to online, via text or on the phone.

Rebuilding from devastation like Sunday and Monday's tornadoes can be an overwhelming process, but there are people out there to help. Moneywatch's Ilyce Glink offers more advice on what to do after the tornado.

There's also more information online at www.oag.ok.gov/oagweb.nsf/Consumer and the Attorney General's Facebook Page. Oklahoma State's Public Protection Unit can be reached at (405) 521-2029.

  • Sara Dover On Twitter»

    Sara Dover is an associate news editor for CBSNews.com

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