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Pulaski County Sheriff Warns of Flood Relief Scams

WAYNESVILLE, Mo. -- The Pulaski County Sheriff say scammers are already preying on victims of this week's deadly flooding.
WAYNESVILLE, Mo. -- The Pulaski County Sheriff say scammers are already preying on victims of this week's deadly flooding.

On Thursday, Sheriff Ron Long released a statement saying, "scammers and con-artists are warned that I will aggressively prosecute anyone who takes advantage of Pulaski County citizens impacted by the recent flooding. However, the best thing that could happen is for residents to be proactive so that no one falls for these scams. For that reason, I am offering some tips to try and avoid these scammers and con-artists before you become their victim."

Here are some steps to avoid these predators:

IDENTITY THEFT

Identity thieves many times operate in an area that was recently impacted by a natural disaster and pose as a government official or as someone from a charity that is trying to help. It is also not unheard of for these thieves to go through the trash that has been set out for disposal. 

Here are some steps to prevent these thieves from getting your information:
  • Shred Documents with Personal Information: If you are disposing of records that were destroyed by the flood water, ensure that you shred any records that have personal information on them like your name, social security number, date of birth, bank account numbers, passwords, etc. 
  • Do Not Give Out Your Social Security Number: Make sure that you know who you are dealing with. Unless you initiate the contact or you are sure of whom you are dealing with, do not give personal information to a stranger. A legitimate source will be happy to wait for you to verify their identity. If you have any doubt, contact the police, sheriff, city officials or my office to verify that who you are dealing is a legitimate official.
  • Check your Credit Report: It is always a good idea to check your credit report to ensure that no unauthorized accounts have been opened in your name. If you think someone may have obtained your information, you should check more often. You can obtain a free credit report from the Federal Trade Commission at www.annualcreditreport.com
  • Notify Your Bank and Credit Card Companies: If you think someone may have obtained your personal information, notify your bank and credit card companies. You can also contact the credit reporting bureaus and place a fraud alert on your credit report.
    Stop your Mail: If you have been displaced, make sure to notify the post office to stop your mail and have it forwarded to a safe location. 

CHARITY FRAUD

  • Many local and national charities have already stepped forward to help. Unfortunately, there will be criminals who use the disaster as a chance to steal from you or charities rather than raise funds to help others. Here are some tips to make sure your donation goes to help instead of into the pocket of a thief:
  • Identify the Charity: Many fake charities will have nice sounding names. Make sure you know the charity you are giving money to. If you have a question as to whether it is a legitimate charity, wait and ask others.
  • Do Not Be Pressured: Legitimate charities do not pressure you to give. If a caller tries to play on your sympathy by identifying the organization with the flooding, be careful. Be cautious about allowing solicitors into your home. If you are unsure the organization is legitimate, check into the organization before you commit to donating.
  • Avoid Cash Donations: Make sure the check is payable to a legitimate charitable organization and not to an individual.

CONTRACTOR FRAUD

Be on the lookout for contractors known as storm chasers. These are companies that arrive in the area shortly after a natural disaster, like the flooding we have experienced. The representatives from these companies will often go door to door in storm damaged areas posing as recovery experts or contractors specializing in flood repair.


Here are some tips to try and avoid these storm chasers and make sure your repairs are done properly:
  • Contact your Insurance Carrier Immediately: Some insurance carriers require that you only use contractors approved by the carrier. Many times, they will also have a list of contractors they approve of and will guarantee the repairs if you use an approved contractor.
  • Use Reliable, Licensed and Insured Contractors and Get Multiple Written Estimates: Be sure to obtain at least two written estimates for the job and read the contract fine print. Compare the services and prices of several reputable contractors before making a final decision. Do not be afraid to ask others if you do not understand everything in the contract. Hire local contractors, if possible. Look at the license plates and if they are not Missouri plates, this should be a red flag.
  • Check References and Complaints: Contractors should be willing to provide the names of previous customers. Call some former customers who had similar work done to make sure they were satisfied with the job. Also, you should check with the Better Business Bureau, the Missouri Attorney General, and the Waynesville Building Inspector to see if there have been prior complaints made against a particular contractor.
  • Ask for Proof of Insurance: Make sure the contractor carries general liability insurance and workers' compensation. If the contractor is not insured, the homeowner may be liable for accidents that occur on the property or to the house/building.
  • Insist on a written contract: A complete contract should clearly state all the tasks to be performed, all associated costs and the payment schedule. Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces. Make sure the contract clearly states who will apply for the necessary permits or licenses. Have a lawyer review the contract if substantial costs are involved and keep a copy for your records.
  • Get any guarantees in writing: Any guarantees made by the contractor should be written into the contract. The guarantee should clearly state what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee and how long the guarantee is valid.
  • Have work inspected: If excavation work is being performed (e.g., sewers or basement walls) make sure a qualified inspector examines the work before it is hidden from view to avoid similar problems in the future. If you live within the city limits, an inspection by the city building official may be required for all work.
  • Make final payments when the work is completed: Do not sign completion papers or make the final payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction. A reputable contractor will not threaten you or pressure you to sign if the job is not finished properly.
  • Pay by check or credit card: Avoid on-the-spot cash payments. Only write a check to the contracting company. A better idea is to use a credit card, because you have a chance to dispute a charge afterwards if a problem arises. A reasonable down payment is 30 percent of the total cost of the project, to be paid upon initial delivery of materials. Federal law gives consumers a three-day "cooling off" period for unsolicited door-to door sales of more than $25.
  • Cancel the contract if necessary: Canceling a contract should be done within three business days of signing. Be sure to follow the procedures for cancellation that are set out in the contract. Send the notification by registered mail with a return receipt to be signed by the contractor.
If you suspect that you are the victim of a scammer, or suspect that you have been targeted by a scammer, please contact my office or a local law enforcement official immediately. We all stand ready to protect the victims of this natural disaster from becoming the victim of a human disaster in the form of a scammer or con-artist.

Here are some helpful numbers and websites for your information:

Pulaski County Prosecutor’s Office: 573-774-4770
Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department: 573-774-6196
Waynesville Police Department: 573-774-2414
Waynesville City Hall: 573-774-6171
Waynesville Building Department: 573-774-6009
St. Robert Police Department: 573-451-2000
St. Robert City Hall: 573-451-2000
Missouri Attorney General: www.ago.mo.gov
Missouri Attorney General Fraud Hotline: 1-800-392-8222
Better Business Bureau: www.bbb.org

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