The state is investigating a company called NY Rising Consultants that earlier this month emailed superstorm Sandy victims offering to help with applications, change orders and appeal cases -- for fees ranging from $30 into the thousands.
Its logo, which looks like sun rays coming out of an outline of the state, is strikingly similar to one used by New York Rising, the Governor's Office of Storm Recovery program that administers disaster grants.
On an "About Us" page on its website, NY Rising Consultants says all its employees formerly worked at the state recovery program and know the complex regulations.DataNY Rising LI projects
"Don't be the one in your neighborhood that got shorted the funds that are allowable by the program," the website says.
It is unclear how NY Rising Consultants got access to email addresses of Sandy applicants or whether the state computer system was compromised. About 11,000 people are registered with the state NY Rising program and the agency has no idea how many may have received the emails, said Barbara Brancaccio, a spokeswoman for the Governor's Office of Storm Recovery.
She said Wednesday that the state "will aggressively pursue legal measures against anyone who misrepresents NY Rising and attempts to defraud the homeowners in our program."
The emails were reported to the state Aug. 17. That day, the state sent a cease-and-desist letter to an email address for NY Rising Consultants, saying the company was "disseminating false and deceptive advertising."
The letter from interim General Counsel Daniel Greene said the company was violating federal and state business law prohibiting "deceptive acts or practices."
The company did not respond to the state, and an email sent by Newsday to the same address was undeliverable.
State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) said Wednesday he had heard from residents about the emails.
"We are very concerned where the lists of emails came from and we do not want victims of hurricane Sandy to be victimized again," he said.
The NY Rising Consultants website, which has been shut down, included links for applicants, design professionals and attorneys. One for "prices" linked to options, such as consultation, and then a PayPal payment page.
"To me it reminds me of some of the scams we see when . . . people try to get their mortgage remodified," Boyle said.
Michele Insinga, a volunteer with the South Shore Recovery Coalition from Lindenhurst, reported the case to NY Rising. "I believe there is no safeguarding at all in the system," she said.
After a similar case last year, she said she requested credit monitoring from the state because of the personal information applicants share during the process, including Social Security numbers. It did not happen.
"They keep saying it's all secure," she said. "Nothing is secure. Nothing, because that happened," she said of the new round of emails.
Other homeowners also reported the emails to Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman's office, which would not comment Wednesday. NY Rising is working with the attorney general's office.