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Police warn of scam artists following damaging storms like Sandy

Hurricane Sandy (2012)Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.American Red Cross

Scammers trying to take advantage of any damaging storm such as superstorm Sandy have many ways to get your money, say Baltimore County Police.

Scams can range to pleas for donations for storm victims to people posing as utility workers to unlicensed contractors offering to do jobs cheaply.

"Just because (scammers) set up a table with a sign, stand on a street corner with a bucket or put a wrapper around a tin can and say it's for victims, doesn't make it true," said Cindy Chenoweth, a police officer with Baltimore County's Financial and Cyber Crime unit. "That money's going right into their pockets."

Chenoweth said people who want to make financial donations to storm victims should do so through a reputable organization such as Red Cross, a state or county agency, or their local church.

Chenoweth also warns homeowners against giving their credit card number over the phone to anyone who calls requesting money for hurricane victims.

She said people should ask information about the charity be mailed. If the charity is legitimate, a check can then be sent.

Another scam she said is for someone to show up at a house claiming to be from BGE or a county agency and ask to come in to check on a line or a pipe.

"Make the person wait outside until you have checked to see if they are really who they say they are. If they are really from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., they won't mind you checking," she said.

As of early this month, she said her office hadn't gotten any calls about hurricane-related scams, but that it's only a matter of time until there will be reports of scams.

Chenoweth advised for people who need repairs to deal only with licensed contractors and ask to see the license. Asking neighbors or friends for referrals is also a good idea, too, and get several estimates.

Maryland Department of Labor secretary, Leonard Howie, put information on avoiding scams on the department's website.

"Scam artists often follow damaging storms. Don't be fooled by an unlicensed contractor who offers to do a job at a lower price than a licensed contractor," he wrote. "It may seem like a great deal at first, but it may cost much more money in the end to repair shoddy work or to pay another contractor to complete the work if the unlicensed contractor takes your money and never returns."

Howie also recommends people get a written contract and not pay any money until it is signed.

Homeowners should hired only contractors licensed by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission. People can call 1-888-218-5925 to check on a contractor's complaint history. To see if a contractor has a valid license, go to http://www.dllr.state.md.gov and click on Occupational and Professional Licenses, then click on License Search.

"Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," Chenoweth said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Hurricane Sandy (2012)Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.American Red Cross
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