JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As residents all over Florida begin the process of recovery after disasters like Hurricane Ian, Florida officials are warning them of potential scammers trying to take advantage of their situations.
Florida Chief Financial Officer and Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis said law enforcement has been told to not tolerate the threat of scammers, and those who are caught will receive tough sentences.
“There’s going to be absolutely zero tolerance for the predators that come into the state of Florida that prey on citizens,” Patronis said.
RELATED: Be alert: How to avoid scams, fraud after Ian’s devastation
The Davis Shores neighborhood was cleaning up debris and destruction Saturday after Ian tore through Northeast Florida.
Jared Whetstones said his wife’s car was flooded by the high waters from the storm.
“It was over the wheels, insides soaked,” Whetstone said. “Once you get water inside, there’s nothing you can do.”
Patronis said filing an insurance claim is the first thing you should do when your property gets damaged. Whetstone did exactly what Patronis recommended and contacted Geico to file a claim.
Patronis also warned about scammers pretending to help fix the damaged property.
“They’ll be predators on your claim, and if you give anybody cash at your doorstep to institute any repairs, you might as well be setting it on fire. There’s no way you’re going to get any of that money back to the claims process,” Patronis said. “Starting that process as best as you can with your insurance carrier, do it online, get in the queue, let them start processing that claim. Let them get you some money.”
Patronis also mentioned if you’re a FEMA flood insurance carrier, the agency could send you money to get the process started.
He suggested people look out for fake charities and said GoFundMe can be untrustworthy sometimes as well.
“They will take a hard look story. They’ll go steal images off Facebook. They’ll go post it on the internet and suck dollars out, making sure that they will not go to anybody that really needs it,” Patronis said.
The Florida Disaster Fund, The American Red Cross and the Salvation Army are reputable, safe places to make donations, according to Patronis.
Patronis told News4JAX tasks forces from other states such as Virginia, Massachusetts, and Ohio have headed down to Fort Myers Beach to help with relief efforts. They currently have 1000 task force members including trauma surgeons and structural engineers working 12-hour shifts searching for people who may be trapped in the devastation.
As of Saturday, Patronis said crews searched 6,000 homes that were devastated.
“They’re finding people. They’re pulling people out of the rubble, out of the challenges,” Patronis said.