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Business bureau, attorney general warn against tornado help scams

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The Better Business Bureau of Southwest Missouri is spreading the word about companies that may be taking advantage of victims of the EF-5 tornado that left heavy damage in Joplin. According to a BBB news release, the agency has received reports of towing companies towing damaged and destroyed vehicles without permission and charging owners exorbitant fees to get their automobiles returned.

 The release said that the Joplin Police Department has authorized some companies to tow cars from public lots, but those companies must keep record of where the vehicles are towed from and where they are being stored. In most cases, those companies are doing the work free of charge, though they are not obligated to do so. Joplin residents whose vehicles were towed without their permission who are being charged fees can call the Joplin Police Department at (417) 623-3131 to find out whether the department authorized the tow.

The bureau also is urging people to be vigilant in researching companies they hire to help with rebuilding or recovery, even though they may want to get things cleaned up as quickly as possible.

“Unfortunately, there are individuals who take a tragedy such as this as an opportunity to take advantage of consumers and businesses who are vulnerable,” said BBB of Southwest Missouri President Judy Mills, in a separate news release.

 The BBB reminds those who want to help with Joplin’s recovery to make sure organizations accepting donations are legitimate, and BBB offers information about businesses and charities online.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has issued a warning to businesses and individuals against illegal price-gouging – the unnecessary raising of prices on necessities – as Joplin works to rebuild.

His office is sending investigators to the Joplin area to watch for price-gouging and to examine allegations on-site.

“The unimaginable disaster in Joplin will take everyone working together to recover,” Koster said in a news release from his office. “There is no room for anyone to try to take advantage of tornado victims in need.”

Violators of price-gouging laws face penalties of up to $1,000 per violation, the release said. Anyone who believes a person or business has suddenly or artificially raised prices on necessities such as gas, food, diapers or cleanup equipment is asked to call Koster’s office at (800) 392-8222 or ago.mo.gov.

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