Prosecutors Ready for Sandy Scams and Crimes [AUDIO]
Shore area law enforcement officials gear up for a crime wave unique to natural disasters following Superstorm Sandy.
Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford says her office established a Task Force on November 2nd which is being led by Sr. Assistant Prosecutor Martin Anton, to deal with storm-related crimes.
"Unfortunately in the wake of a disaster as we experienced in recent weeks here in Ocean County, it presents an opportunity for some people to take advantage of people when they're down on their luck and in desperate straights and this is an activity which has played itself out after Hurricane Andrew and other natural disasters. So we have to be prepared for the inevitable."
Ford says complaints that usually come out are instances of contractor fraud, over-reaching price gouging and charity fraud. She says if you suspect you've been victimized you should lodge a complaint with your local police department and let them know at the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office at 732-929-2027.
Ford says the fact that these crimes were also committed after a natural disaster will most likely be a factor when it comes to establishing charges and sentencing.
"We feel it's particularly heinous, under the circumstances, that someone would come in and take advantage of people when they're the most vulnerable and many people have been displaced from their homes. They've lost items that are of incalculable value. They are living in conditions that are uncomfortable and they are particularly susceptible to people who would exploit their anxiety for their own financial benefit. So we are taking these cases very seriously."
Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccione says they haven't set up a special task force per se. He describes their storm-related crime prevention efforts as a close coordination with Federal, State and Local authorities. He characterizes law enforcement efforts after the storm it as a Purple Organizational Law Enforcement "a bunch of different law enforcement from different entities working together side-by-side with the same common interest, which is protecting life and property."
He says when it comes to preventing storm-related criminal activity, they'll be counting on an active and vigorous referral network that will start with municipal police departments. He says when talking to law enforcement officials from Florida and South Carolina, places usually struck by hurricanes, they usually see charitable contribution fraud cases and contractors who engage in fraudulent practices a few months after a natural disaster. He says they also expect to see insurance fraud claim cases and cases where people registering for FEMA that really aren't victims.
Gramiccione says there's one area isn't spoken about much and that's Travelers Scams. He says the Travelers are organizations and people who come around and offer to do things like seal your driveway or fix your leaking roofs. He says they often quote low prices that are usually fake and then you give them a substantial down payment ... they do a percentage of the work and then take off into the wind.
He advises people to do your homework before hiring a contractor and contact state organizations that will tell you if they're registered and licensed with the state. "Just be an educated consumer is what it boils down to I think."