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Editorial: Price-gougers, scammers take advantage of storm victims, our desire to help

Sept. 9, 2017 at 11:46 p.m.


We always marvel at the inspiring tales of heroism, generosity and hope that surface in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey. It is a given in this nation that when our fellows are in need, we roll up our sleeves and do all we can to help those who are suffering.

Unfortunately, another given is that such disasters also prompt the bottom feeders who see in them an opportunity to re-victimize storm survivors through price gouging, scams and fake businesses.

The problem has become so bad that, after Hurricane Katrina, the Justice Department established the National Center for Disaster Fraud, which receives hundreds of calls every month — even without a disaster.

And the calls are starting to roll in from Houston. The center is hearing about unscrupulous repair and removal contractors, FEMA "inspectors" charging for their services, and robo-calls about phony insurance schemes.

The Texas attorney general's office said late last week it already had received more than 3,200 complaints about scams, fraud and price gouging since Aug. 25. Some of those came from East Texas, where a handful had been reported through Friday from the Longview area.

Price gouging becomes a problem when immoral business people try to take advantage of desperate hurricane victims. We have seen stories about people charging $99 for a $5 case of bottled water; $300 per night for an $80-per-night motel room; even $20 for a gallon of gas.

Attorney General Ken Paxton has put out the word he will prosecute anyone caught price gouging in the aftermath of Harvey, but he will need your help. If you hear about someone attempting to illegally profit from Harvey-related misery, file a report online at texasattorneygeneral.gov or report it to local law enforcement officials.

Such ripoffs are bad. Even worse are schemes that take advantage of our desire to help. And every disaster like Harvey sees scam artists crawling out of the woodwork in search of a quick buck.

In this era of online fundraising, such scams are even easier to pull off. One victim of Hurricane Harvey, whose family's rescue from their flooded apartment via helicopter airlift was aired by the local ABC affiliate, found multiple GoFundMe.com fund-raising web pages created in his name. Only one was created by the family. The others may very well have had people with good intentions or they could have been fakes. But how can you tell?

Unfortunately, it's not easy to distinguish. The Federal Trade Commission has posted a series of tips on how to spot the signs of a charity scam, as well as a checklist for vetting any organization before donating. You can find that online at bit.ly/2xKKZr7

The impulse to help is a worthy one but be cautious of those who want to use your generous and compassionate heart to make a quick buck. If you think you have spotted price gouging or other scams, report it to authorities.

Flags to half-staff

The U.S. and Texas flags at the News-Journal will be lowered to half-staff Monday for Patriot Day.

Please join us on this 16th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks as we remember those who lost their lives on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

President Donald Trump also asks that a moment of silence be observed at 8:46 a.m. Eastern Time — the time the first airliner hit the World Trade Center. In East Texas, the observance would be at 7:46 a.m.

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