AG’s Office establishes new hotline, resources to support residents affected by Merrimack Valley disaster

LAWRENCE, MASS. (WHDH) - A new hotline and an array of resources have been set up to support Merrimack Valley residents and businesses recovering from the devastating fires and explosions that rocked the area two weeks ago, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced Tuesday.

Those with questions and concerns can contact the Attorney General’s new hotline at 617-573-5370 in order to connect with specialists in the office who are able to handle questions about legal representation, home improvement scams, and insurance claims from homeowners, renters, and local businesses.

“I want residents and businesses in the Merrimack Valley to know that my office is here to help and we will be for as long as it takes,” Healey said in a press release. “We are committed to holding those responsible accountable and protecting homeowners, renters and businesses from anyone who tries to take advantage of this disaster.”

In addition to being a resource for residents, lawyers from Healey’s office will continue to be directly in touch with Columbia Gas to make sure that the utility is preparing to fully and effectively compensate impacted individuals and businesses.

“The focus in Lawrence has and will continue to be making sure that our residents get their gas services restored so that they can have access to hot showers and cook – returning life back to normal for them,” Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera said in the release.

Healey has sent Columbia Gas and NiSource orders to preserve documents for a potential state investigation.

Her office offered the following tips for those impacted by the disaster:

Unauthorized Practice of Law

The AG’s Office warns impacted residents and businesses not to be pressured into signing up for legal representation they do not understand. The AG’s Office also advises residents to watch out for dishonest individuals who falsely hold themselves out as attorneys and provide advice and services they are not qualified or legally allowed to perform. The AG’s Office is urging residents to take precautionary steps to avoid such fraud (sometimes called “notario” fraud).

  • Make sure you are working with a licensed attorney. Look up anyone who claims to be an attorney at the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers to confirm that he or she is licensed to practice law in Massachusetts. Only a licensed attorney can:
    • Represent you in court.
    • Advise you as to whether you should apply for benefits or protections.
    • Explain your legal options and give you legal advice.
  • Do not sign a contract or agreement you do not understand.You can ask to have these documents translated into your native language.
  • Never sign a blank form. Make sure you read and understand all the information on any form that you sign.
  • Get copies of documents. Get copies of every document that you sign and keep all of your original personal documents.
  • Get receipts. Insist on a receipt for every payment you make, including cash payments (but beware of anyone who insists on cash payments).
  • No legitimate lawyer can promise you a particular result. Be wary of:
    • Promises you will recover money or promises to pay you now for a settlement that has not happened yet.
    • Insistence on payment in cash or money orders, which makes it easier for a non-lawyer to deny having received payments.
    • Anyone who asks you to lie or conceal information.
    • Anyone who asks you to conceal his or her involvement. If a lawyer is legitimate, he or she should disclose their involvement to everyone involved.
  • File a complaint against an attorney. If you have complaints against an attorney, you can contact the Attorney and Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP) of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers, at https://www.massbbo.org/Complaints or at (617) 728-8750.
  • Find an attorney. If you need help finding an attorney, you can visit https://www.mass.gov/info-details/finding-a-lawyer.

Recovering Losses

Many affected residents and businesses have questions about how to recover for losses. Before making any insurance claim, impacted individuals and businesses should first consider exhausting the claims process through Columbia Gas. Importantly, for anyone who has suffered damage or been displaced, the AG’s Office advises that you make a list of damaged or destroyed items in your home or business, save receipts relating to expenses, and document any damage with photographs and/or written descriptions.

  • Greater Lawrence Property Claims Helpline. Impacted residents and businesses should file a claim regarding loss or damaged property with Columbia Gas. The helpline is staffed 24-hours a day to receive claims of loss or damaged property: (800) 590-5571.

Home Improvement Contractors

The AG’s Office encourages consumers to do their due diligence before they enter into any agreements with home improvement contractors:

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