Scammers are once again taking advantage of a hot news item by using the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as a springboard to launch their con jobs.
A British Petroleum oil rig off the coast of Louisiana exploded on April 20th killing 11 workers and injuring 17. Two days later the rig toppled over and shortly thereafter estimates were being made that the damaged well was leaking over 1,000 barrels of crude oil daily.
After one month and numerous attempts to stem the flow of the leak, estimates have jumped exponentially with some academics claiming the leak was far exceeding the 210,000 gallons a day estimated by the Coast Guard. While British Petroleum has been able to siphon off a portion of the leaking oil and natural gas with a tube implementation, oil has begun washing onto shore.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says the oil has already seeped as far as ten miles into some of the state’s fragile marshlands and wildlife preserves. The Gulf States, from Louisiana to Florida are currently in direct danger of an ecological and economic disaster, and there are indications the slick could make its way out of the Gulf of Mexico and travel up the east coast.
Oil isn’t the only sludge that has begun to wash ashore; reports are starting to pop up of scammers trying to take advantage of the unfortunate situation’s high-profile news coverage to steal money from innocent victims.
ABC’s Jacksonville, Florida affiliate, Channel 25 News, reports that the phone call scams have already started. One woman said she was contacted by a man claiming to be collecting money to help with the oil spill clean up. He had done his research, calling the woman by name but wasn’t able to provide any verifiable details for the organization on whose behalf he was allegedly calling. The number he was calling from was blocked from the woman’s caller ID and when pressed for further information he simply hung up.
The Better Business Bureau of Northeast Florida has received multiple complaints about a man who has been going door-to-door offering a “miracle chemical” for sale which he claims will prevent oil from damaging beaches and other sensitive areas.
Unscrupulous contractors have also been reported making the rounds in at-risk communities. These scam artists are requesting cash deposits with promises to expedite clean up for those who pay early. This is simply not how things are going to work once task of removing the oil begins, and authorities are asking home and business owners with waterfront property to report these inquiries.
British Petroleum has even warned the public about scammers that are posing as BP employees. These con artists are charging training and registration fees to people who are looking to assist BP in the clean up efforts. British Petroleum notes that their employees carry proper identification badges and business cards and while volunteers to help with clean up are encouraged, training and registration are both free of charge. If interested in helping, contact the number provided at the end of the article.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation released a statement earlier this month encouraging the public to perform due diligence before donating to any organizations or paying for services from any individuals claiming to perform environmental remediation services.
In the release the FBI asked folks to adhere to these guidelines:
— Do not respond to any unsolicited emails about Oil Spill relief and don’t click on any provided links. These could be phishing scams or computer virus loaders. Instead of following these links, use any number of Internet-based resources to verify the charity’s legitimacy and then visit their site directly. Also be cautious of emails that contain unopened pictures of the disaster along with requests for contributions. These picture files often contain computer viruses.
— Show skepticism towards individuals passing themselves off as members of environmental organizations through either unsolicited emails or social networking sites.
— Beware of contractors who require up-front payment for services because they may fail to perform the work or complete the job to the customer’s satisfaction. Use only licensed contractors and be sure to get a written contract detailing the services to be performed before payment is actually made.
— If a job opportunity requires the applicant’s to pay an upfront fee? It is probably a scam and should be avoided.
— Scammers posing as government officials will sometimes try to charge a processing fee for providing free government services. Do not pay. Report these individuals immediately.
The FBI says if you have a tip or complaint about fraud related to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, it should be reported immediately to the National Center for Disaster Relief. This organization, created by the Department of Justice during Hurricane Katrina, coordinates information from over 20 federal agencies to act as a centralized clearinghouse for disaster relief fraud. The contact information is provided at the end of the article.
The oil spill is a ecological and economic disaster, the scope of which we might not fully realize until many years have passed. The public’s willingness to help, whether that help comes financially or on the ground helping with clean-up efforts, is going to go a long way towards getting the Gulf of Mexico back into shape. This desire to lend a hand is what some filthy scammers are counting on exploiting to make a quick buck off of well-intentioned Good Samaritans and the tragedy itself is nothing more than another money-making opportunity. Don’t let the bad guys win. Stay alert and report any possible scams to the numbers below.
If you would like to register to help with the oil spill clean up efforts, call this toll free number: 1 (866) 448-5816
To report disaster fraud contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud
Live 24-hour hotline: (866) 720-5721
Fax: (225) 334-4707
Suspicious emails and fraudulent websites should be reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov