Texts part of flood scam, N.D. AG says

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jul 7, 2011


BISMARCK, N.D. (Legal Newsline) - As the flood waters in North Dakota slowly recede, more scam artists are moving in to cash in on the disaster, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Wednesday.

A rash of text messages appear to be the most recent attempt to scam flood victims, he said.

According to officials at the disaster recovery center, numerous individuals recently reported having received a suspicious text message.

The messages, which are being sent to telephone prefixes assigned to the Minot area, suggest that if the recipient's home or business was damaged by flood, the recipient can avoid delays and be placed immediately on a list simply by texting "flood" back to the sender. If the receipt is not a flood victim, the instruction is to reply with a text stating "no."

"The most important thing to remember is to not respond to these text messages," Stenehjem said in a statement.

"In past text message scams, it appears any response goes to a server and the unsuspecting victims are automatically registered for various offers they were not aware of and did not agree to, as well as expensive premium text messaging subscriptions."

On May 10, President Barack Obama declared much of North Dakota a disaster area due to the Missouri River flooding, which began in February.

The flooding was triggered by record snowfall in the Rocky Mountains of Montana and Wyoming, along with near-record spring rainfall in central and eastern Montana.

On June 1, 10,000 people in Minot, N.D., were evacuated. Days later, on June 21, 12,000 people -- a quarter of the town's population -- were ordered to evacuate after Lake Darling Dam had to step up its release of water.

In this most recent scam, Stenehjem said a legitimate telephone number belonging to an innocent Minot resident is being used.

The telephone number displayed on the recipient's phone is not the actual number being used, he explained.

However, this has resulted in some angry calls to the legitimate owner of the phone number, who did not send the bogus text messages, the attorney general said.

Although prohibited by law, scam artists frequently resort to "spoofing" a real telephone number because it makes it harder for authorities to track them down, the Attorney General's Office said.

"Today it's a false text message to get ahead on a waiting list. Tomorrow, it might be a bogus inspector at a flood-damaged home," Stenehjem said.

Parrell Grossman, director of the attorney general's Consumer Protection Division, cautioned the public that over the next few months he expects to see more scam artists taking advantage of flood recovery efforts across the state.

"This is just one of what we expect may be a deluge of flood-related scams over the next few months. The text scammer may even be 'setting the hook' for a later scam," he said in a statement.

"My staff and I will be vigilantly watching for new scams so we can alert the public."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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