Monday, September 22, 2003

FTC News: Hurricane victims beware!

You can't make this up:
The Federal Trade Commission has issued a Consumer Alert, “After a Disaster: Repairing Your Home,” that warns consumers of potential “home repair rip-off artists” who may overcharge, perform shoddy work, or skip town without finishing the job. After a natural disaster, the demand for qualified contractors usually exceeds the supply. Because many legitimate companies are booked for months, frustrated consumers may not take the necessary precautions when hiring contractors.
It's nice to see the FTC possesses a rudimentary understanding of supply-and-demand. Among the FTC's helpful tips to consumers: "Take your time before signing a contract. Get a written estimate that includes all oral promises made, but make sure to ask if there is a charge for an estimate. Do not automatically choose the lowest bidder. Obtain a copy of the final contract." Good advice. The FTC should follow it when they're prosecuting physicians and other businesses; the FTC gets very upset when producers refuse to offer the lowest price demanded by a consumer.

Beyond the superficial hypocrisy, however, the FTC's "consumer alert" is a fairly patronizing document that assumes consumers are blithering idiots who can't act in their own best interests without a government lawyer telling them what to look out for. Consider this gem: "Ask friends, family, or insurance agents for recommendations" of contractors. It's hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't think of this advice until going to the FTC's website and reading that.

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