Assistant News Director
On June 1st, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton joined the list of political speakers to hold a press conference in San Marcos regarding the Hays County floods.
“Unfortunately, in past disasters we’ve seen a pattern in which an initial disaster is followed by a second wave of disaster, in the form of shady individuals who are trading scams and fraud,” said Paxton.
When a disaster strikes some rush to the aid of individuals, others come to scam innocent victims. Paxton called these con artists “bad actors taking advantage of these circumstances.”
Paxton urged Hays County victims to be wary of contractors from out of state, as well as donation websites that appear illegitimate. Contractors from out of the area have been known to go door-to-door, make big promises, take large down payments and never make repairs.
Other types of scammers include individuals who go door-to-door seeking personal information, offering replacement ID cards and driver’s licenses. Paxton urged Hay County flood victims to be very careful with their personal information.
According to Tommy Prud’Homme, the Attorney General’s office has received eight complaints of wrongdoing primarily from the Houston area. The majority of those complaints were regarding price gouging, the act of charging excessive prices for necessities in the wake of a disaster.
Price gouging has been a problem in previous disaster periods. Prud’Homme said during Hurricane Ike, hotels hiked up their room prices knowing hurricane evacuees would need rooms. To Prud’Homme, this kind of scam is considered typical following disasters. Currently in Houston, tow truck companies are charging higher rates to pull cars from flooded areas. However this form of price gouging is considered illegal.
“Once you’ve had a disaster declaration as we have here, it is illegal to charge exorbitant or excessive prices for necessities,” said Prud’Homme.
A disaster declaration has been triggered by Governor Greg Abbott, which means any businesses that are price gouging are asked to be reported to Paxton’s office.
Paxton advised flood victims not to be rushed or bullied into signing a contract, and to utilize contractors who take payment after repairs are done. It is best to go with contractors who are well known, local and have a list of dependable references.
The Better Business Bureau is a good resource to consult when determining the right contractor, said Paxton.
“I urge anyone who encounters scammers operating in disaster zones to contact law enforcement… In Texas, the office of the Attorney General is the voice of the victim,” said Paxton.
Anyone who thinks they are being scammed is asked to get the contractor’s references, contact the Better Business Bureau, get a contract or plan in writing and remember to call law enforcement for help.