Although the imminent threat of Tropical Storm Ida has passed, another danger is on the rise: scams, fraud, and other forms of financial exploitation.
That’s according to Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck and the Division of Consumer Affairs, both of which warned Garden State residents against Hurricane Ida-related scams for rebuilding efforts.
Bruck said natural disasters like the tropical storms could create perfect opportunities for scammers and con artists who were vulnerable as they look for temporary housing or other immediate needs.
“We’re committed to holding those who violate our laws accountable, and are reminding everyone to be on the lookout for fraud and know how to avoid it,” said Bruck.
From Price Gouging to Bogus Charities
Bruck warned against a variety of schemes, ranging from the relatively mundane like price gouging on goods to unscrupulous contractors who may not finish a job to completion.
Bruck and Sean P. Neafsey, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, noted New Jersey’s price gouging law prohibits excessive increases during a state of emergency.
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“The Division stands ready to investigate and enforce the laws that protect consumers against price gouging, repair scams, charity scams, and other disaster-related fraud. But there is no greater protection against fraud than an educated, alert consumer, and we’re urging residents to be on the lookout for the kinds of exploitation most commonly seen after devastating storms,” said Neafsey.
Bruck highlighted more sophisticated schemes, including bogus disaster-relief charities. He urged that those looking to issue a charitable donation do their research, and for those seeking contractors to ensure they are properly registered with the Division.
Be on the Lookout for Flood-Damaged Cars
The officials singled out the potentiality of purchasing a flood-damaged car, and offered tips on how to spot such a vehicle.
They said to obtain a vehicle history report from the dealer to verify whether the car had already been damaged in the past, and to check for water damage on upholstery and carpets within vehicles. Trunks and under the floor mats should be checked, too.
Rusted screws, sweat springs, and other metal areas are a tell-tale sign of water damage, as could musty odors and corroded electronics.
“This storm has left people across New Jersey in a state of shock and uncertainty as they begin trying to recover from the damage and losses they suffered and that, unfortunately, makes them prime targets for scammers,” said Neafsey.
A Disaster Recovery Center has been opened in Hackensack to assist residents and businesses with applying for Federal disaster relief. The center has representatives from FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration on hand to handle applications in-person.
The Disaster Recovery Center is located on the first floor of the Bergen Community College Philip Ciarco Jr. Learning Center, at 355 Main Street, Hackensack, NJ 07601. The Disaster Recovery Center will be open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Bergen County residents and businesses sustaining losses as a result of Hurricane Ida are eligible to apply for Federal disaster relief after the County received major disaster declaration from President Biden last week. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.