Hurricane Harvey had barely stopped howling and Houston was still flooded when officials began hearing complaints of fraud targeting victims of the monster storm’s fury.
Dismaying reports of $99 cases of water and $20 gallons of gasoline are among the 684 complaints of scams, including ones involving fraudulent charities, to reach the Texas attorney general’s office within four days of Harvey’s landfall.
Gov. Greg Abbott condemned the crimes as “reprehensible” and “unTexan,” and he said the long road of storm recovery will include public reminders that price gouging is punishable in Texas by fines of up to $20,000 per incident, or a penalty of $250,000 if a victim is 65 or older.
AARP Texas Director Bob Jackson said it is tragic that many Texans have had to contend with fraudsters while also working to restore their lives and communities. During hurricane season, Jackson said it’s imperative that property owners be aware of storm-chasers pretending to be roofers, carpenters and other home repair experts. He said Texans should work through their insurers to survey damage and to always get estimates from approved contractors.
Suspicion of scams and fraud can be reported to the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or by contacting local law enforcement or the Texas Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-621-0508. Another step toward beating con artists is joining the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which is free of charge for everyone – AARP members, non-members, and people of all ages.
Harvey has forced thousands of people to abandon their inundated homes and apartments by boat, helicopter and by foot, sometimes carrying children, pets and plastic bags full of belongings. Deaths were reported and dozens of people were injured.
-- Mark Hollis