(From the City of Joplin)
The Joplin Police Department would like to remind citizens to be aware of and report any instances of alleged fraudulent activity related to the May 22nd EF5 tornado. Fraudulent activity surrounding a national disaster may run the gamut , from insurance and contractor fraud to identity theft and public corruption. The following are just a few of the fraudulent acts we have recently seen, or expect to see.
Always request identification from anyone identifying themselves as a “disaster official” or “disaster worker.” Some con artists pose as government officials and claim that a “processing fee” must be paid to secure disaster relief payments or loans. Others have pretended to be safety inspectors who will tell you expensive or unnecessary repairs must be done immediately.
Contractor/Debris Removal Frauds
Property owners who are hiring contractors to clear debris should make sure to:
§ Use only licensed, bonded and insured contractors
§ Make the contractor provide their identification and City License
§ Get more than one bid, if possible, to get the best possible price;
§ Ask for written estimates and/or a written contract that clearly spells out the scope of the work to be performed and the price.
§ Never pay in cash
A disaster can result in the loss of your credit cards, bank checks, social security card, and driver’s license. All of those documents contain personal and financial identifying information. To prevent someone from using these documents to open up fraudulent credit card accounts in your name, or otherwise steal your financial identify, it is important to report loss of any of those documents as follows:
· Checks and debit/credit cards – your financial institution and credit card issuers.
· Driver’s license –.Missouri Department of Revenue
· Social Security Card – Social Security Administration’s Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271.
· Passport – U.S. Passport Agency at 202-647-0518.
If your suspect your personal information may have been compromised with the May 22nd tornado (or for any other reason) , please take the time to contact one of the three credit bureaus about the loss of your documents. Ask that your account be flagged or monitored for unauthorized activity. You may be allowed to attach a statement that explains your documents were lost in a disaster. The numbers for the credit bureaus are:
· Trans Union 1-800-680-7289
· Experian (TRW) 1-888-397-3742
· Equifax 1-800-525-6285
If you suspect unauthorized use of any of your personal and financial identification documents, alert the above contacts, and immediately contact the Joplin Police Department to make a report.
Before making a donation of any kind, consumers should adhere to certain guidelines, including the following:
· Do not respond to unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages.
· Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as surviving victims or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.
· Beware of organizations with copy-cat names similar to but not exactly the same as those of reputable charities.
· To ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf.
· Do not be pressured into making contributions, as reputable charities do not use such tactics.
· Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
· Avoid cash donations if possible. Pay by debit or credit card, or write a check directly to the charity. Do not make checks payable to individuals.
· Fake Insurance Claims
· Inflated Insurance Claims
People can report fraud, waste, abuse or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief efforts to the Joplin Police Department 417-623-3131 or through the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hot Line toll freeat 866-720-5721.
Anyone who believes they have been a victim of fraud from a person or organization soliciting funds on behalf of storm victims should contact the FBI’s offices in Springfield at 417-882-3303 or in Kansas City at 816-512-8200.