Crime analyst victim of post-storm scam

Gil Smith receives approval letter for grant he never applied for

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Any time a major storm tears through an area, scammers almost always follow suit, trying to capitalize on confusion and misinformation. 

The Jacksonville area saw its fair share of scammers following Hurricane Irma. News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith was among those targeted. Unlike many victims, Smith was able to catch on to the scam before it was too late and alerted authorities. 

Smith said the scam started with a letter from the Small Business Administration he received Monday, alerting him about a loan and government assistance. The letter claims that Smith registered for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The only problem is that Smith never actually applied for help. 

Smith said he spent hours on the phone trying to straighten out the mess and figure out what was going on.

“They said it was fraudulent. They said somebody called up, used my name and my information and received a $500 grant for repairs from Hurricane Irma,” Smith Said.

That sent off a warning, and now Smith, FEMA and The Small Business Administration are investigating. 

“They don’t know who did it or how they did it, and they’re very busy trying to figure it out,” Smith said.

A spokesperson from the SBA said anytime there is a disaster, there are scams that follow. The spokesperson said the letter may be legitimate and could’ve been triggered by someone making the fraudulent storm claim, but what worried Gil Smith is something he’s been saying for years: “Anyone can be a victim.”

“When I found out someone used my information, it really makes you vulnerable that your information is out there and they can take this personal information and apply for money,” Smith said.

Smith said a copy of the letter was also sent to one of his relatives. 

Anyone who has received a similar letter but has never applied for assistance is asked to call the SBA at 1-800-827-5722, or FEMA at 1-800-621-3362.

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