Real Estate Market

Oil spill scamming washes ashore

(8/30/2010) Scam artists follow the headlines, and with one as big as the Gulf oil disaster, you can bet they are making the rounds.

Federal and state agencies have warned Gulf area residents not to fall for bogus charities, fraudulent employment offers or deceitful financial assistance.

Scammers prey on victims' vulnerabilities and use e-mail, websites, door-to-door operations, flyers, mailings and telephone calls to make contact and solicit money.

Some may claim they're raising money for environmental causes or offer fraudulent services — including remediation services — related to the oil spill. Others may claim they can expedite loss claims for a fee.

Still others may knock on your door and talk about placing booms or checking for oil on your property.

"Unfortunately, while the public's attention is focused on an event like this and citizens pull together to do what they can to help, it is almost inevitable that con artists will emerge to exploit the situation in an effort to enrich themselves," said Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson.

Bronson says it's important to avoid providing personal and financial information to those making unsolicited offers for assistance or promises to help.

• Avoid scam artists posing as authorized claims adjusters asking for fees to expedite services. Likewise, steer clear of those who pretend to be government officials demanding a processing fee for government services.

The government does not require processing fees. There is no charge to process claims. Always verify you are dealing with authorized representatives and don't sign waivers of liability without legal and financial counsel.

The Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), administered by Kenneth R. Feinberg, has been established, to take over from BP and assist claimants in filing claims for costs and damages incurred as a result of the oil spill resulting from the Deepwater Horizon Incident of April 20, 2010.

• Don't be taken by high-pressure people who misrepresent an affiliation with an environmental or other organization when they ask for charity donations via e-mail or social networking sites.

Reputable charities don't pressure. Check out charities at the Better Business Bureau. Contribute to charities you know and have vetted as bona fide. Rather than clicking on a link to a purported website, verify the legitimacy of a nonprofit organization by using search engines and other online resources to confirm the group's existence, history, mission and nonprofit status. Avoid cash donations. Pay be debit or credit card or write a check so you have a record of the donation.

• Beware of unsolicited employment offers, especially those that require you to pay a fee before you begin work and request personal financial information such as a Social Security number, bank account or credit cards. Likewise, don't do business with unlicensed contractors nor those who require upfront payment for services.

The U.S. Department of Labor's CareerOneStop's Deepwater Horizon Response site provides quick access to a range of employment and related resources for individuals impacted by the disaster in the Gulf. There are links to CareerOneStop services in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

For more information see:

FTC Warns of Oil Spill Scams

FTC: Avoid Charity Fraud

Florida Attorney General: Beware of Scams

New York State Consumer Protection Board Warns of Oil Spill Charity Scams

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