Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa today announced the creation of a Statewide Sandy Fraud Working Group to serve as New Jersey’s clearinghouse for investigating and prosecuting those who try to illegally benefit from the storm and disaster recovery process.
The working group will coordinate all investigative and enforcement efforts at the state, county, and local levels “to ensure all cases are referred and prosecuted as efficiently and effectively as possible,” he said.
“Though most New Jerseyans responded to Superstorm Sandy with resilience and generosity, some unfortunately are motivated by the desire to take advantage of the misfortune of others,” Chiesa said.
He urged victims or witnesses of fraud to contact the group: 855-SANDY39 (855-726-3939) or www.StopSandyFraud.org
That includes, but isn’t limited to, home repair fraud, insurance fraud, and fraudulent charitable solicitations.
“We will ensure that all information is acted on by the appropriate agency, that all necessary information is shared across jurisdictional lines, and that all appropriate charges are brought,” the attorney general pledged.
State officials promised a publicity campaign in the coming weeks touting the working group.
The panel includes representatives from the State Division of Criminal Justice, State Division of Consumer Affairs, State Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor, New Jersey State Police, and the Atlantic, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Ocean County Prosecutor’s Offices, and is co-coordinated by Division of Criminal Justice Director Elie Honig and State Division of Consumer Affairs Acting Director Eric T. Kanefsky.
It will work closely with the state Comptroller’s Office, which today launched a Sandy Transparency Website, allowing the public to track state contracts and expenditures involving federal Sandy-related funding.
Today’s announcement coincides with National Consumer Protection Week, which runs this year from March 3 through March 9.
The State Division of Consumer Affairs noted that consumer complaints related to Sandy – 2,164 in only two months – were the top complaint category in 2012.
State authorities already have taken action in several areas:
- Price gouging investigations and lawsuits: The Attorney General has filed lawsuits against a total of 24 hotels and gas stations accused of violating New Jersey’s price gouging law by increasing their prices excessively during the state of emergency;
- Communicating in the field with home improvement contractors: The Division of Consumer Affairs has assigned investigators to scour the hardest-hit areas of Atlantic, Monmouth, and Ocean counties and speak directly with home improvement contractors working to rebuild homes in those areas. The investigative team also attends home shows in order to meet and interact with contractors. The investigators remind the contractors of the need to register with the Division of Consumer Affairs and comply with the Consumer Fraud Act and all other applicable laws and regulations;
- Ensuring the integrity of charities: Judge OKs restraints on bogus Sandy charity to protect donations State authorities have also issued warnings to more than two dozen newly created groups that appear to be soliciting donations in the name of Sandy victims and is monitoring their activities to ensure compliance with New Jersey’s Charities Registration and Investigation Act, and the Consumer Fraud Act;
- Consumer resource on flood-damaged vehicles: The Division of Consumer Affairs partnered with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission to create an easily searchable database ( www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov/floodedcars ) of more than 13,000 vehicles that have been processed by the MVC as either flood-titled or salvage-titled since Sandy made landfall.
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