Whenever a national tragedy occurs, hundreds of thousands of Americans donate their time and money to make sure their neighbors can get through the darkest of times. The relief effort in Oklahoma in the wake of the deadly tornados represent the shining light that is the American way of life, but with such support comes the potential for low-lives and petty thieves to try to make a quick buck off the generosity of others.
Similar actions happened just months ago in the aftermath of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Many people were anxious to donate to the victims of the tragedy, and they went online to try to find a donation center that was collecting money for the victims of the families. What some generous folks didn’t know was that scammers had set up fake profiles or PayPal accounts that promised to donate the received funds to a local family, when in fact the scammer intended to hold onto the donations for their own self interests.
These scammers are the lowest of the low. They represent the Anti-Robin Hood, stealing from the less fortunate to keep for themselves. They are the child molesters of digital crime, feeding off the goodwill of innocent individuals.
Reports out of Oklahoma have found that some individuals have been calling households in Oklahoma, asking them to donate to the relief efforts under the guise that they are acting on behalf of the Salvation Army or the Red Cross. When a person gives out their information, they are basically depositing money directly into the scammer’s bank account. The Red Cross and Salvation Army have both issued statements saying they will never call you asking for donations, as they have other fundraising techniques.
In another report, some individuals have said that area hotels and stores have attempted to profit off the displacement of others. Investigators found that one convenience store was charging $40 for a case of water, while some hotels have jacked up room rates because the victims have nowhere else to stay. These price increases are in direct violation of what is known as The Emergency Price Stabilization Act, which prohibits price increases of more than 10% on goods and services in the wake of a disaster.
While residents and law enforcement officials have enough to deal with as they sort out this tragedy, we can only hope that these scammers are swiftly brought to justice. If you want to donate to the relief efforts, visit the official site for either the Salvation Army, or the American Red Cross.
Sean Sullivan comments
Though Illinois has not faced a tragedy so devastating as these tornados in Oklahoma, many homes and business have been damaged recently due to heavy rains and flooding. At times of stress and crisis like these, homeowners and consumers are understandably distraught and do not often make the best choices. Sadly it occurs all too often with tragedies such as this that disreputable individuals or companies will prey on this distraction and stress and use it to their advantage.
I have seen this phenomenon here in Illinois in my own practice. I have successfully defended Illinois homeowners against “storm-chaser” companies who offer their help to victims of storm damage. Companies such as this often offer their “services” to help negotiate on your behalf with insurance companies and then claim that you are obligated to award them the right to make the necessary repairs to your house. Another common danger with companies such as this is they often take the entire insurance check up front and then never do the work. At times like these, homeowners should:
- Be wary of anyone or any company who just approaches you out of the blue offering their services;
- Always ask for references;
- Be suspicious of anyone who seems to use bullying or hard sale tactics;
- Check with your neighbors for referrals to reputable contractors who they were satisfied with;
- Feel free to check anyone out with the better business bureau;
- Refer to the Illinois Attorney General’s website under their consumer fraud division for more knowledge of your rights as a consumer under the laws of Illinois.