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Rutgers Seminar on how to protect Sandy survivors from con artists
October 7, 2014

It’s an unfortunate reality for survivors of superstorm Sandy: Con artists flocked to take advantage of people who already were victimized by a natural disaster.

Rutgers University’s School of Social Work's Continuing Education department hosted a conference in September for professionals to swap knowledge on how to best protect vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, from falling victim to post-disaster predators.

There isn’t much data showing how many people have been exploited during the recovery, said Doug Behan, executive director Continuing Educaiton. Behan received a $239,924 grant from the New Jersey Department of Human Services’ Adult Protective Services unit to develop a curriculum on post-disaster exploitation.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud, more than 1,400 complaints were made in the first year after Sandy. Behan said 30 percent of those came from New Jersey, more than any other state. As of October 2013, the center had collected 30,110 for Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall in August 2005.

According to a news release in April announcing Behan’s grant, which is paying for the conference, one of the most prevalent scams was ineffective mold remediation.

“Many elderly people were taken in by this scam, which often involved door-to-door visits,” said Patricia Findley, an associate professor of social work at Rutgers. “Instead of removing the mold, the fraudulent contractors would just put up walls and lay down the new floor on top of it. With the heat of the summer, the mold has grown back and is presenting a health concern for older adults or anyone with allergies or asthma.”

There are plenty of other examples, including phony charities, contracting work that was simply never done, unkept promises of low-cost housing and price gouging.

Disaster scams in the past have revolved around identity theft, dishonest contractors, public adjusters and attorneys, hurricane reinvestment strategists, and illegitimate nonprofit agencies, and can be carried out by phone, email or in-person.

“Preventing Post-disaster Financial Exploitation: Lessons Learned from Superstorm Sandy” was a free, public conference intended for professionals in the fields of behavioral and public health, business, law enforcement, disaster management and government/human services. Keynote speakers included Paul Greenwood, deputy district attorney in San Diego who is a nationally known expert on elder abuse, and Steve Crimando, who administers terrorism and disaster training for the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

A follow-up conference will be held next spring. The grant money also will be used to conduct 60 free educational seminars around the state through September 2015.


Free On-site Trainings Available for Fall 2014 / Spring 2015!

  • Expert-led, 90 minutes presentations on post-disaster financial exploitation will be offered to interested organizations and community groups.
  • Appropriate for staff development and general populations

Call 848-932-8438 for more information or to schedule training

From the Asbury Park Press

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