Ohioans Warned of Potential Disaster Scams

January 12, 2005

Attorney General Jim Petro and the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police are warning Ohioans to be cautious about scam artists after natural disasters such as flooding from the Ohio winter weather to the tsunami in Asia.

“It is unfortunate that there are people who prey on others in their time of need, but we know they are out there and the best way to fight them is to be prepared to ask the right questions,” Petro said.

“Anyone who encounters a suspicious situation or feels they may be a victim of a scam should call their local police department,” said Chief David Wright, president Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police. “Scam artists are experts at what they do, so do not be embarrassed to come forward.”

Here is a list of types of scams to be aware of:

Fly-by-night contractors
They often arrive from out of town or out-of-state as soon as a disaster occurs. They promise immediate and/or cheap home repair, clean up or remodeling. They often take one’s money without doing any or all of the work. Many of these contractors do a shoddy job or add up additional costs while the job is in progress. They may require a large cash deposit before beginning the work, then never return.

Charity scams
Supposed charities may be soliciting for donations to help disaster victims. They may even use legitimate charity names, such as the Red Cross. The money is never provided to those who are in need of assistance. Give directly to one’s local charity organizations if they desire to donate to avoid this scam.

Officials are seeing e-mails circulating that are asking for help for victims of the tsunami. These look much like the Nigerian e-mail scams that have been circulating for years. Officials advise Ohioans to donate to known charities that have international ties

Price gouging
Some unscrupulous businesses may charge extremely high and unjustified prices for products or services that disaster victims need to purchase or rent, such as roofing materials, plywood, tarps, food staples, charcoal, electrical generators, etc.

Job opportunity scams
Beware of advertisements for jobs such as flood clean up or other labor which require an advance fee payment to obtain the job. Often the money is paid in advance and no job exists.

Advance-fee loan scams and mortgage scams
Unless dealing directly with a bank or other exempt financial institution, one should not be required to pay a fee in order to obtain a loan or credit. Be aware of excessively high interest rates, second mortgage loans, or equity loans where using one’s home as collateral.

Water treatment and water testing
Request assistance from one’s local health department or environmental protection officials before falling prey to questionable water treatment companies. They often use scare tactics to convince people to purchase their products.

Con-artists portraying themselves as public officials
Question anyone claiming to be a government representative or official. Request to see photo identification from anyone who wants access to the home. Con-artists may offer help in obtaining disaster relief payments from the government, or act as safety or building inspectors advising one that work should be done immediately.

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