In the days leading up to and following Superstorm Sandy's rampage along the East Coast, consumer agencies scrambled to get one message out loud and clear: Beware of scams.
But even scams themselves turn out to be bogus, as evidenced by rumors of fraudsters posing as ConEd workers going door-to-door to weasel financial information out of Sandy survivors' hands.
The Consumerist posted one such tale on its site today, with a reader named "Sedo" claiming his mother had been targeted shortly after Sandy passed:
"He wanted to make sure she is getting all the savings she get. That sounded like a scam and I asked him whether he is from Con Ed. He actually said ‘Yes.’
I couldn’t believe him and I asked my mother if she handed him any information. Good thing she did not. Then I told him that my mother threw out all her bills and he said ‘It’s okay then.’"
It makes for a pretty juicy story line, especially with the FTC and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau both issuing continuous warnings about post-hurricane fraud. But as far as ConEd scams go, it's all one big hoax, says The Atlantic Wire's Rebecca Greenfield:
"The story of criminals disguised as Con Ed workers predates Sandy. Last June, "Neighbor Max" told the Ditmus Park Corner blog about fake Con Ed employees coming to his door. He didn't mention guns or theft, though. It's not unbelievable that people stealing things would dress up as Con Ed workers. Man-Hole thieves were described as looking like utility workers earlier this year. So it's possible these incidents put the idea out there."
Unlike the story told to the Consumerist, most of the supposed ConEd scams involve some type of looting or robbery. Problem is, there have been no actual confirmed reports of either scenario.
Still, it's better to be safe than sorry. There are almost always blatant warning signs for these types of fraud, and no matter how desperate storm survivors may be to piece their lives back together, do your due diligence before opening your checkbook.
Here are a few signs of fraud to watch out for, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:
- The contractor demands full payment up front or in cash only.
- The contractor has no physical address or refuses to show ID.
- You have to disclose personal financial information (perhaps to “speed up payment”) to start the repair or lending process.
- If you have to borrow to pay for the repairs, the contractor steers you toward a particular lender or tries to act as an intermediary between you and a lender.
- You are asked to sign something without enough time to review it.
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- The Consumerist