Better Business Bureau warns of scams during disasters

With potential flooding this weekend, BBB sends out warning

By Tommy Lopez - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - The Better Business Bureau of Western Virginia is warning people about the potential for scams during disasters ahead of the threat of flooding this weekend from Hurricane Florence.

President Julie Wheeler described to 10 News what people should look out for if they find themselves in the unfortunate situation of being a flood victim. She broke down the potential fraud into three different categories.

1) False FEMA scams
Wheeler said people need to watch out for scammers who falsely say they’re with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

She said scammers may set up fake websites so you should always make sure you’re on FEMA’s website (FEMA.gov). Scammers may ask you to pay a fee but you won’t have to pay any fee when receiving aid from FEMA.

Wheeler said sometimes people approach victims in person and say they’re with FEMA. They may try to help you but will then try to charge you for it. You can always ask someone with FEMA for an ID and check their badge number by calling the agency.

2) Fake victims and charities
Wheeler said people often set up fake organizations to receive money or supplies.

If you’re looking to help victims, you should be cautious of crowdfunding posts for people or families. She said it’s easy for scammers can set up fake posts with pictures that aren’t theirs. She said if you know the people asking for help, that’s great. If you don’t, consider donating to an organization like the American Red Cross instead.

She said many grassroots groups do a great job of providing aid, but when donating to an organization, you should ask the leaders if they have done this in the past and if they’ll have the ability to get the items to people in need. She said many groups are well-meaning but can still struggle to help victims.

3) Storm chasers
“Storm chasers” can go door to door and try to take advantage of people during disasters, according to Wheeler. She said people need to do their homework if someone approaches them asking if they need cleanup work done.

Scammers may ask for money up front, claiming they’ll do home-improvement work -- making repairs or clearing debris -- and then never do the work. Wheeler also said nonlicensed people may do poor quality work and ask a high price for payment.

Some questions to ask a contractor who approaches you are: Where are you physically located? Do you have a business card? Are you licensed? In what state are you licensed?

You can always call the Better Business Bureau if you’re unsure about someone who has approached you.

Price-gouging:

Leaders in the commonwealth said this week that it's against the law the jack up prices for goods and services in the coming weeks. Here’s a warning from the office of the attorney general:

“Governor (Ralph) Northam's declaration of a state of emergency has triggered Virginia's anti-price gouging statutes designed to protect consumers from paying exorbitant prices for necessities during an emergency. Enacted in 2004, Virginia's Anti-Price Gouging Act prohibits a supplier from charging “unconscionable prices” for “necessary goods and services” during the thirty day period following a declared state of emergency. Items and services covered by these protections include but are not limited to: water, ice, food, generators, batteries, home repair materials and services, and tree removal services. A price is considered “unconscionable” if the post-disaster price grossly exceeds the price charged for the same or similar item or services during the ten days prior to the state of emergency.”

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