A natural disaster not only leaves lives uprooted in its wake, it can also bring price gougers, scam artists, and bogus charities into our community.
If you feel you are the victim of price gouging or a scam, please contact the Office of the Attorney General of Texas at 1-800-252-8011.
This link will take you directly to the Office of the Attorney General of Texas Consumer Complaint Form.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is raising awareness that Hurricane Harvey disaster survivors, and their friends and family, must be alert for false rumors, scams, identity theft, and fraud. Although many Americans are working hard to help their neighbors now, during chaotic times, some will always try to take advantage of the most vulnerable.
To dispel some of the false rumors circulating on the internet and social media, FEMA created a dedicated website to address some of the most common themes. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Visit https://www.fema.gov/hurricane-harvey-rumor-control to get the most accurate information from trusted sources.
Here is how to protect yourself, or someone you care about, from disaster fraud:
- Federal and state workers do not ask for, or accept, money. FEMA staff will never charge applicants for disaster assistance, home inspections, or help filling out applications. Stay alert for false promises to speed up the insurance, disaster assistance, or building permit process.
- In person, always ask to see any FEMA employee ID badges. FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance teams may be in impacted communities providing information and assisting survivors with the registration process or their applicant files.
- A FEMA shirt or jacket is not proof of identity. All FEMA representatives, including our contracted inspectors, will have a laminated photo ID. All National Flood Insurance Program adjusters will have a NFIP Authorized Adjuster Card with their name and the types of claims they may adjust.
- If you are unsure or uncomfortable with anyone you encounter claiming to be an emergency management official, do not give out personal information, and contact Seabrook Police on their non-emergency line at 281-291-5610.
- If you suspect fraud, contact the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or report it to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
- More information on disaster-related fraud is available at the Texas Attorney General’s Office website at texasattorneygeneral.gov/cpd/disaster-scams or call -800-252-8011.
After a disaster, you may see some businesses excessively raise their prices on essential goods and services, like water, groceries, fuel, and car and home repairs. Charging excessive prices for necessities in an officially recognized disaster area can constitute price gouging.
Price gouging is illegal, and can be prosecuted by the Office of the Attorney General under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The OAG has the authority to prosecute any business that engages in price gouging after a disaster has been declared by the governor.
Natural disaster often bring flocks of door-to-door salespeople to affected communities. While many of these are honest and reputable, some are not. We'll help you keep an eye out for scammers and people trying to take advantage.
The City of Seabrook has an ordinance that requires all solicitors, peddlers, and vendors have a permit and carry identification while working. A legitimate door-to-door salesperson in Seabrook will have a Seabrook-issued ID badge. Below are some safety tips to keep in mind:
- Ensure the solicitor is wearing their City issued permit, if not you may ask to see it.
- Anytime someone is at your door whom you do not know, it is best to speak behind a locked door.
- Do not engage in conversation with the solicitor if you are not interested in their product or service.
- Do not let the solicitor inside your home.
- If you have a "No Solicitor" or "No Trespassing" sign in your yard or on your door, do not answer the door or simply ask them to leave.
- Contact the Seabrook Police Department by calling (281) 291-5610 if you have concern about the solicitor at your door.
For most consumers, the home they own and live in is their largest and most important investment. Adding improvements, repairing damage, and keeping up with routine maintenance are all part of the smart consumer's effort to protect and increase the value of this important asset. Scammers know you'll spend money to improve your home. Be sure you know how to protect yourself!
Below are some tips from the Office of the Attorney General of Texas on working with contractors and repair people:
- Get more than one estimate.
- Don't be pushed into signing a contract right away. Take your time.
- Check the contractor out with the Better Business Bureau.
- Get references from past customers.
- Get the salesperson's license plate number.
- Avoid out-of-town business. If the repair job turns out to be substandard, this can make correcting the problem or getting your money back more difficult.
- Get everything in writing and keep a copy of all documents.
- Do not sign a contract with blanks.
- Ask for proof of insurance. If the contractor is not insured, you could be liable for accidents on your property.
- Never get too far ahead on the payments. If you pay too much up front, the contractor has little incentive to return and finish the job.
- Find out in writing if the contractor or business will place a lien, security interest or mortgage on your property.
- Ask for guarantees in writing.
- Don't sign completion papers or make final payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction. A reputable contractor will not threaten you or pressure you to sign if the job is not finished properly.
Download our guide for dealing with Disaster Scams (PDF).
Giving to charities that provide assistance to victims of a natural disaster is a wonderful thing and we applaud your generosity. That being said, there are scammer who will try to take advantage of your kindness.
It's wise to only give to charities you're already familiar with. Most reputable organizations don't directly solicit donations from individuals by telephone, email, or door-to-door visits.
If you would like to give to a charity that will use donated goods and money only in the Seabrook community, you can donate to the Society of St. Stephen. They have set up a donation center at the Seabrook United Methodist Church and will open on Tuesday, September 5th. See our Assistance & Donations page to find out details on how you can receive assistance or help them out by volunteering or donating.
Please use the following resources when researching charities:
- The BBB Wise Giving Alliance: This is a great resource for researching charities. You can find extensive reports and evaluations on many charities. They also accredit charities so you can be sure the charity you're giving to is legitimate.
- The American Institute of Philanthropy: The AIP is a charity watchdog group who does deep research into charities to make sure the money you donate is being used efficiently and for what they say it's being used for.
- Guidestar: Guidestar is an extensive database that gathers info on over 1.8 million IRS-recognized non-profits.