As Hurricane Season Gets Underway, Fla. Officials Warn Against Scams

Jun 1, 2015

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With Hurricane season underway, Florida officials are warning residents about scams that tend to blow through the state along with the storms.

Officials say scammers use disasters to prey on consumers. Attorney General Pam Bondi’s spokesman Whitney Ray says among the schemes is price gouging, or the unreasonable raising of prices during a state of emergency.

“Now, those commodities include food, gas, lumber, shelter, and water, but they can also include the renting or leasing of a property or hotel accommodations,” said Ray. “So, if a consumer sees price gouging in the wake of a storm, they should contact our office. And, the Attorney General’s office investigates any allegations of price gouging. Another way to help prepare against price gouging is to be stocked up on the goods, these essential commodities to have three to seven days worth of supply of food, water, gas, and other things that you might think that you might need in the wake of a storm.”

Other common hurricane-related scams include building repair and tree removal services scams. To avoid them, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation spokeswoman Chelsea Eagle says it’s important residents verify the people they hire have state licenses.

“So, whenever a hurricane or a natural disaster happens, there’s usually an uptick of unlicensed activity in the affected areas,” said Eagle. “We will see construction contractors coming in from out-of-state or other areas and they’re kind of taking advantage of consumers, homeowner, business owners, and just trying to reap the damage that’s taken place. And, they may not even hold a license at all, or they may hold a license in another state. So, what consumers need to understand is they need to carry a construction contracting license from DBPR in the state of Florida to do those services.”

Eagle says consumers can also protect themselves by going on the DBPR website or calling their call center.

“And, then one of our newest features is actually the DBPR mobile app, and it is free to download in the iTunes and Google Play app stores,” added Eagle. “So, consumers can actually check license on the go.  So, if they’re out on the street and a roofing comes up to them, and wants to try to provide services for the roof that they may not even need in the first place, they can pull out their app right in front of them and have them verify the license on the spot.”

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is cracking down on charity-related scams, and even pushed for strengthened laws to protect consumers last year.

“So, Commissioner Putnam urges consumers to check charitable organizations by visiting FreshFromFlorida.com to a) make sure that they’re registered with the department, to b) better understand where the contributions will go, whether it’s to the individuals that the charity intends to help or overhead costs, and c) make sure that they have all they have all the information they need to make informed decisions,” said Jenn Meale, the agency’s spokeswoman.

Meale says residents can also use their Gift Giver’s guide, available on their website.

“It’s online at FreshFromFlorida.com, and it’s an easy way where consumers can go to the website, type in a charitable organization’s name and then ensure that the organization is properly registered with the department, and also get a better understanding of where the money that you’re donating is actually going to go,” she added.

And, overall, all officials agree that with hurricane season underway, residents should make sure to be prepared—even though a hurricane hasn’t made landfall in Florida in a decade.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.