Fox 25 Town Hall - Attorney General Wants To Protect Tornado Victims

Tom Bates, the First Assistant Attorney General, says the AG's office continues to keep a very close eye on price gouging, home repair fraud, and charity fraud since the May tornadoes.

"Those are the three areas that we really focus on in the AG's office in the wake of a disaster."

Bates says after the tornadoes struck, all of the Department's 35 agents hit the ground running. He says consumers reported some price gouging immediately after the disaster, but inspectors couldn't verify the reports. He credits Oklahoma businesses for knowing and understanding the Emergency Price Stabilization Act that prohibits inflated prices.

"Businesses have a good understanding that once the Governor declares that state of emergency prices are pretty well frozen for that 180 day period."

He says now that homeowners are receiving insurance checks, they need to be very careful.

"People are very anxious to get their homes repaired or get their homes rebuilt, so they're vulnerable. Maybe they get a little impatient."

Bates suggests doing business only with contractors who have local ties to the community.

"Folks that come in from out of town with the magnetic signs on the pickups, I mean that's just not good."

Red flags, like those magnetic signs, aren't always so obvious. Every disaster seems to bring new scams. One example - homes for rent on Craigslist that really don't exist.

"People who perpetrate fraud are always looking for ways to put a new twist on an old scam."

Bates wants tornado victims to stay vigilant.

"As people get further into it, they may have the tendency to let their guard down. The warnings are still the same."

He says the risk of identity theft is very high for those who've lost their homes, because important papers disappear.

"All those papers get sucked up and disbursed."

His best advice is to educate yourself to prevent victimization.

"We can prosecute people and we can send them to jail. And we've done that. But very rarely can you make somebody whole after that type of crime. Once that money's gone, they may get restitution but it may take years to get back."

If you'd like more information on fraud and scam prevention tips, please call the Office of the Attorney General at 405-521-2029 or 918-581-2885.

Click here for a PDF to the Oklahoma Disaster Scam Prevention Packet