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Price gougers put on notice

Before Hurricane Irene even makes landfall, authorities are already warning merchants not to capitalize by price gouging.

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen told state residents to be on the lookout for "unscrupulous market players" who "may seek to extract excessive profits." 

The state declared an "abnormal market disruption period" Friday, during which unusual price hikes on gasoline and other fuels is prohibited. The window runs at least through midnight Wednesday.

"We've seen shameless scammers use disasters to take advantage of North Carolinians," said Cooper in a written statement.  "Prepare now to avoid common scams and make it easier to deal with damage after the storm."

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, likewise, complained that "we've seen shameless scammers use disasters to take advantage of North Carolinians," urging residents to "prepare now to avoid common scams."

Cooper and other authorities in states along the East Coast offered tips for residents who may need urgent repairs on their homes or other property after Irene rolls through this weekend:

• Don't pay for work up front. (A reasonable down payment may be required for some projects, but don't pay anything without getting a written contract.)  

• Inspect all work and make sure you're satisfied before you pay.

• Avoid paying with cash. Use a check or a credit card, instead.

• Avoid contractors who come to your home unsolicited.

• Seek recommendations from friends, neighbors, co-workers and others who have had work performed on their homes.

• Get three written estimates, if possible, and compare bids.  

• Beware of charity scams that use disasters to make phony pleas for donations. 

If you're able to, check credentials and contact your state attorney general's or consumer affairs office to learn about previous complaints against a contractor. Here are contact details for most states in the hurricane zone in case you want to check records or file a complaint:

Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection — email food.standards@ct.gov or call 800-842 2649 during business hours or 860-713-6160 after hours and on weekends.

D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs — call (202) 442-4400 or visit the agency's website.

Delaware Consumer Protection Division — Visit the agency's website.

Maryland Consumer Protection DivisionVisit the agency's website.

Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation — Call the Consumer Hotline at 617-973-8787 or 888-283-3757 or visit the aagency's website.

New Hampshire Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau — Call 888-468-4454 or visit the agency's website.

New Jersey Division of Consumer AffairsVisit the agency's website.

New York  Division of Consumer Protection — Call 518-474-8583 or 800-697-1220 or visit the agency's website.

North Carolina attorney general's office — Call 877-5-NO-SCAM or visit the agency's website

Pennsylvania Bureau of Consumer ProtectionVisit the agency's website.

Rhode Island Consumer Protection Unitemail or visit the agency's website.

South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs — Visit the agency's website.

Vermont Consumer Affairs & Public Information Division — Call 802-828-2811 or visit the agency's website.

Virginia Office of Consumer AffairsVisit the agency's website.