With government aid comes scam artists in Joplin aftermath

Executives warn donors to take care with relief funds.

Donations began pouring into Joplin after news of the tornado reached the public May 22. Some of these donations, however, have not and will not reach their intended destinations, Attorney General Chris Koster said in a news release.

“Sadly, as in any disaster of this nature, there are certain people who will seek to take advantage of others in their time of loss and sorrow,” Koster said. “I want to make sure you have the knowledge and tools you need to protect yourself from these scam artists and to make good, long-term decisions during this difficult time.”

To arm the public with the knowledge it needs to fend off scam artists, Koster released A Consumer’s Guide to Recovering from Disasters on Monday. Scams discussed throughout the publication are charity fraud, contractor scams, identity theft and price gouging.

“Unfortunately, there are people who see opportunity in disaster,” Koster said. “Scam artists will show up, pose as charities and fraudulently solicit donations from people who are anxious to help those in need.”

If anyone wants immediate donations or denies written information about the organization he or she claims to represent, Koster said consumers should be weary. These are quite often signs of a scam artist.

Columbia Police Department spokeswoman Latisha Stroer had some suggestions of her own for people looking to avoid scams.

“Unless you have contacted the charity or organization that you want to give money to, then do not give money over the phone because you never know if the money is used for legitimate reasons,” she said. “It is always best for people to look at their finances and what causes they are willing to donate to and go ahead and make the donation on their own without being solicited.”

She suggested people donate toward charities with which the consumer is already familiar, such as the Red Cross and the United Way.

Regardless of the name of the charity, Koster said, remain cautious. The names of false charities often are only a word or two off from legitimate organizations. Stay strong and don’t succumb to pressure, he said.

“Many charitable organizations are stepping up to help those in need,” he said. “At the same time, there will be people who use this disaster to steal from you rather than raise funds to help others.”

Stroer said if a fraud is discovered and reported, legal repercussions are in place.

“The suspect can be charged with stealing or fraud, depending on what type of scam,” Stroer said.

State Treasurer Clint Zweifel joined the relief efforts May 31, authorizing 24-hour loan approvals for several counties affected by tornados.

“This spring Missourians across the state have been challenged by Mother Nature, but we are resilient,” he said in a release. “Already these communities are beginning to put pieces back together and rebuild.”

The rebuilding process in Joplin will be aided by these loans, Zweifel said. Tuesday, he added Jasper, Newton and Pettis counties to be eligible for 24-hour approvals of Missouri Linked Deposit Program loans through a process called Harmed-area Emergency Loan Priority system, or HELP.

“Small businesses and farms in Jasper, Newton and Pettis need red tape removed so they can rebuild, and HELP does that,” he said. “We will work with local lenders and the community to make sure that qualifying loans get the 24-hour approvals the people of Joplin and Sedalia need during this difficult time.”

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