State AG: Hurricane Harvey scams could reach Michigan

A car is submerged on a freeway flooded by Tropical Storm Harvey on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, near downtown Houston, Texas. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Hurricane Harvey has hit the Gulf Coast, but the scams it will likely spawn could reach West Michigan, Attorney General Bill Schuette warns.

The attorney general’s office, which takes consumer complaints, says there are two common scams that emerge after a natural disaster like Harvey:

USED VEHICLE SALES

Photos are already emerging of vehicles submerged under the historic floods of Harvey. The attorney general’s office says many flood damaged vehicles will end up in the used car market, and can make their way to West Michigan buyers in a matter of days.

Outside of Harvey, thousands of water damaged vehicles have already been sold at auction, according to The National Salvage Vehicle Reporting Program. Some of those sellers never disclosed the damage, the group says.

The water can affect air bag sensors, brakes and electrical systems and the problems may take weeks or months to service, putting the purchase past warranty, the attorney general’s office warns.

While some vehicles may show signs of flood damage like

The attorney general’s office says there are a few ways to protect yourself:

  • Check for signs of flood damage, like water stains, mud or mildew in the vehicle’s interior, a musty scent or perfume meant a strong to mask odors, and premature rust in areas you wouldn’t expect.
  • Get the vehicle inspected by an independent, expert mechanic.
  • Check the vehicle’s history by running its vehicle identification number (VIN) through the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System or through other services like Experian’s Auto Check or CarFax.

While vehicle history reports will reveal if the vehicle came from a flooded area or if it has been issued a flood or salvage title, the attorney general warns such reports may not be up-to-date, so you should always get an inspection.

FALSE CHARITIES

Scammers also like to prey on the kindness of strangers who want to help those hit by Harvey.

Here are some ways to make sure your donations make it to the right hands:

  • Be cautious of unfamiliar organizations or people; you’re best off to donate to well-known charitable organizations that are accepting direct donations for those impacted by Hurricane Harvey, like the American Red Cross or The Salvation Army.
  • Beware of unsolicited pleas for donations via text message, email, phone call or through social media.
  • Exercise caution with crowdfunding sites, which lack the same oversight as traditional charities and organizations.

You can check a specific charity by contacting the state attorney general’s office at 517.373.1152.