It was good to see that officials noted the number of contractor fraud cases in repairs and rebuilds reported so far are low in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which drenched the area more than five months ago.
That the number was low, though, won’t matter to those who gave money to contractors who never did the repair work promised.
It seems that after every natural disaster, a horde of construction people will descend upon the hard-hit areas, promising to do work while getting upfront money. Some perform the work, many don’t.
While residents of hard-hit areas are warned about construction fraud after a disaster, they aren’t the only people looking to illegally or unethically take your money — and these folks don’t wait for a disaster. They work year-round.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office noted there are several types of frauds and scams. Some of the more prevalent ones are:
• Easy credit: Often online, these ads all promise you can get a loan no matter how bad your credit rating, but you have to pay an upfront fee. Advance fee loans are illegal.
• Phishing: If you get a call or email wanting your social security, credit card, or bank account number, don’t do it.
• “Nigerian prince” scam: This is one most everyone with an email account has seen. Someone in a foreign country wants to deposit a large sum of money in your bank account. Sounds too good to be true? It is. It’s another angle to get personal information or even a small upfront fee.
• Bogus debt: These are threatening calls demanding payment for a debt you didn’t know you had. A few years ago, a phone-scam popped up when Galveston residents complained about calls from fake IRS agents demanding payment. The problem here is that IRS agents almost always use mail to make first contact and will never ask for personal information over the phone or email.
• Be wary of business opportunities, especially if you found the offer on the internet, that require you to pay large upfront fees for training, equipment or the like. Most businesses don’t require new employees to pay for their own training.
The rules of thumb to protect yourself from these scams and frauds are basically the same. Get it in writing and read the contract before signing it. Don’t give out personal information to unsolicited callers. In fact, be skeptical of all unsolicited offers. While many businesses, such as contractors, do require partial payment up front, ask yourself if it seems reasonable.
It’s not just post-disaster that brings out fraud and scam artists, they are with us year-round.
• Dave Mathews