WASHINGTON (WOWO/AP) – Authorities are bracing for a wave of fraud and other criminal activity set into motion by Harvey’s punishing rains.
Federal and state officials are warning residents, volunteers and officials in flood zones in Texas and Louisiana they could be targeted by storm-related scams, contract corruption, document fraud, identify theft and other crimes. The easy availability of personal information and documents on the internet has widened criminal activities and potential victims to anywhere in the U.S.
The Secretary of State’s office urges people to watch for red flags including unsolicited emails, social media messages, crowdfunding pitches or telephone calls promoting investment pools or bonds to help storm victims.
Secretary of State Connie Lawson’s office offers three tips to help investors avoid disaster-related scams:
- Delete unsolicited emails or social media messages and hang up on aggressive cold callers promoting hurricane-related investments, especially those from small companies touting unproven or new technologies or products.
- Use common sense. Claims of guaranteed returns or low/no investment risk are classic red flags. Every investment involves some degree of risk.
- Do your homework. Contact the Secretary of State’s office to check that both the seller and investment are licensed and registered. If not, they may be operating illegally. Contact information is available on the agency’s website at www.in.gov/sos.
A federal disaster-related task force has operated since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It’s prosecuted defendants for disaster-related crimes, including more than 1,460 in connection with crimes associated with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Those prosecutions targeted defendants in 49 federal districts across the country – an indication that criminal activities spawned by Harvey could originate anywhere.