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A tree service company told a homeowner it would cost $4,000 to remove three trees after Hurricane Florence, but then the price soared to $7,000, and then again to $12,000, according to North Carolina officials.
It’s one of the latest of more than 700 complaints of Hurricane Florence-related price gouging, according to the N.C. Justice Department. Most of the complaints have involved gas and water, office spokeswoman Laura Brewer told The News & Observer in a recent interview.
N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein filed a lawsuit Friday alleging Alva Wilson Lewis of Lexington price-gouged a Wilmington woman for tree removal service during the state of emergency.
“Right now, people in Wilmington are struggling to put their lives back together,” Stein said in a press release. “It is outrageous that some would take advantage of a desperate situation to scam more money. We are asking the court to put a stop to this action – and I hope it will serve as a message to any other would-be price gougers out there. My office will not allow price gouging to go unchecked.”
Superior Court Judge A. Graham Shirley also entered a temporary restraining order against Lewis and his Lexington-based company that goes by the names A1 Tree & Storm Relief, A1 Tree and Storm Damage Relief, and Big Al & Sons Tree Service, according to the release.
A representative of A1 Tree & Storm Relief allegedly approached the woman at her home, giving her a business card that falsely represented the company to be a fully-insured, certified arborist, the complaint says.
The lawsuit also said Big Al & Sons Tree Service was named one of the “‘Dirty Dozen’ worst businesses in central North Carolina” by the Better Business Bureau in 2015.
Tips to avoid tree removal scams
The Department of Justice offers the following tips for avoiding issues when hiring a tree removal company:
▪ Don’t pay upfront. People should “be very wary” of requests for advance payments.
▪ Choose local companies. “Fly-by-night” companies, those that come knocking on your door or that are from out of state “may not stick around to finish the job,” the Justice Department says.
▪ Check for insurance. Don’t assume a company is insured just because they say so – get proof directly from their insurer.
▪ Check that price. “Be skeptical of any price that seems unusually high or low,” and get more than one estimate to get a better idea of a reasonable price.
▪ Don’t be pressured. Any “now or never” offer should be avoided.
Anyone who thinks they have been the victim of price gouging in North Carolina is encouraged to call 1-877-5-NOSCAM or file a complaint online at ncdoj.gov/complaint.