NORMAN — No sooner had floodwaters receded and high winds from Superstorm Sandy faded, but another threat arose with the inevitable appearance of the scammer and the con man.
Authorities warn of the likelihood of Sandy-related fraud reaching far beyond the storm zone — from bogus charities seeking donations, to home repair scams and sales of flood-damaged vehicles.
State attorneys general, business and consumer groups and the Justice Department are among those cautioning consumers to be wary as requests for donations start arriving via email, text message, telephone and Twitter.
The bottom line: Maintain a healthy skepticism when pitched by solicitors, contractors and groups you don’t know, and give your money to charities and businesses you have reason to trust.
“Fraud is an unfortunate reality in post-disaster environments,” said Joe Wehrle, president of the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a nonprofit group which deals with vehicle sales and repairs fraud. “As the initial recovery from Hurricane Sandy begins, there are people right now who are planning to converge on the affected areas in order to scam disaster victims out of their money.”
Scams operate from a distance, too. Evidence of the potential for fraud began surfacing online even before Sandy roared through the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast.
Nearly 1,100 Internet addresses related to Sandy have been registered since last Friday, according to Internet domain research site DomainTools. The names reference Sandy and words such as “hurricane,” “frankenstorm,” “aid” and “relief.”
Not all such sites are malicious, and some are just set up to get random hits and exposure for their linked advertisements, said Johannes Ullrich, chief research officer for the Sans Institute’s Internet Storm Center in Bethesda, Md. But in past disasters, some also have duped unwitting consumers out of money.
Some sites typically have featured a “donate” button. But either the money will never go to the relief fund or they will simply keep your credit card number to use later.