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Experts set to issue warning today on Puerto Rico aid scams

Rebecca Seawright, chairwoman of the Consumer Fraud Protection Committee, and charitable giving expert Jen Shafiroff will issue a warning today for scams perpetrated on those looking to help Puerto Rico's residents in their desperate time of need.

The two were set to hold a press conference at 11:30 a.m. at 1485 York Ave., between 78th and 79th streets, in Manhattan.

Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria as a Category 4 storm on Sept. 20, cutting electricity and phone lines and sending thousands of people into shelters.

The official death toll in Puerto Rico rose to 34 on Tuesday night, the governor said, almost doubling the previous count, according to Fox News.

Rebuilding the island inhabited by 3.4 million U.S. citizens will mean massive federal assistance or the likelihood of a mass exodus more extreme than the one Hurricane Katrina set off from New Orleans more than a decade ago; Florida is already receiving thousands of Puerto Ricans fleeing desperate conditions there, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello warned last week that without a comprehensive relief package from the federal government, large numbers of residents could seek refuge in mainland states such as New York, Florida and Texas.

“You’re not going to get hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans moving to the States — you’re going to get millions,” Rossello said at a news conference, according to the paper. “You’re going to get millions, creating a devastating demographic shift for us here in Puerto Rico — a brain drain.”

There are already almost 5 million Puerto Ricans living in the United States and many want to help family members or friends, the Consumer Fraud Protection Committee said in a statement.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety and the Puerto Rico Department of Justice formed a task force to investigate and prosecute illegal activity stemming from damage done by the storms.

Other activities discussed include impersonation of federal law enforcement officials, identity theft, insurance fraud, donation scams, price gouging and looting.

Seawright and Shafiroff will discuss the ways scams are used to steal money intended for innocent storm victims.

Authorities warn that people can fall for a swindle without being in a state, or even a country, affected by a hurricane.

This year’s wave of hurricane scams, like the storms themselves, have been devastating, the committee said.

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