Crime

Watch for the financial snakes as Harvey floodwaters recede, Florida office warns

Flood water surrounds houses and apartment complexes in West Houston.
Flood water surrounds houses and apartment complexes in West Houston. The Washington Post

Once natural disaster devastation clears, there’s fertile financial ground for the rebuilding business. Which means, as any veteran of Andrew or Wilma should know, fertile ground for con artists.

Which is why Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation issued a post-Harvey investment scam warning on Thursday. This came two days after the state attorney general's office warned about scam charities in the wake of Harvey.

Tropical Storm Harvey flooded parts of Texas and dropped massive wetness on Louisiana and Tennessee. But it’s Florida that’s so rife with con artists that it makes almost weekly appearances on the CNBC con chronicle, “American Greed.”

“Fraudsters prey on unsuspecting victims by promoting fake investments or bonds to help those suffering from the disaster, water-removal or purification technologies, electricity-generating devices, and home or property repair,” the Office of Financial Regulation’s warning reads.

The scam signs listed by the office include:

▪ Unsolicited communication, including message board and blog posts that might be false puffery. Also, if someone calls you, don’t give up information such as a credit card number, Social Security number or bank account.

▪ An investment with a guaranteed high return with no risk sounds too good to be true. And it is. It doesn’t exist.

▪ If you’re being pressured with “this is available only for a short time,” hang up or walk out. That’s a high pressure tactic used by the despicable or, at best, the desperate.

▪ The investment is pushed as being “tax free.” Profit taxes can be deferred, but, at some point, Uncle Sam will get his.

▪ The investment is based offshore. “There are legitimate offshore investments but they are normally made by sophisticated investors,” the OFR warns. “For a scammer, persuading someone to invest by sending money offshore is often a way to separate an investor from their money quickly.”

▪ Little or no written disclosure material is easy on the reading, but not the sign of a legitimate investment.

Those who feel they’ve been victimized by a con can call the OFR at 850-487-9687 or go to the website.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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