A Monmouth County state lawmaker is hoping to toughen penalties against crooks seeking to scam Sandy disaster victims out of their recovery money.

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13th District (R) Assemblywoman Amy Handlin is drafting a bill that would double the penalties against those who commit fraud after natural disasters. She says, in particular, they're going after unlicensed people who offer to perform a service that requires a license, such as mold remediation.

Handlin says, "Whenever there is a torrent of public money pouring into a particular region of the country, those parasites crawl out of the woodwork. The scammers, the thiefs, the crooks, they're drawn to it like bees to honey."

Handlin's legislation would double maximum consumer fraud penalties to $20,000 for a first offense and $40,000 for subsequent offenses if the victim had also been victimized by a natural disaster. The penalties mirror stiffer fines imposed against scammers who target senior citizens. The measure would also apply consumer fraud penalties to an unlicensed person who offers to perform a service that requires a license.

Handlin says she doesn't know of any incidents yet.

"I don't want us to wait until we begin to have a parade of these kinds of flim-flam artists. I want us to get out ahead of it and make sure that we've got laws in place that will be strong enough to actually have a deterrent effect. In other words, to make these people think twice."

Handlin encourages constituents, who suspect fraud or corruption, or have evidence of waste or abuse of public funds, to contact her office by calling (732) 787-1170 or via email. She says she'll forward incidents to the proper state and local authorities and wants to monitor potential fraud to see if any patterns emerge.

Check out this site for tips on avoiding Sandy-related scams.

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