There were no imposters in Kingwood this week, attempting to lure homeowners of their residences with the intent to rob or burglarize them, said Houston City Council member Dave Martin. Social media ran wild with the news that scam artists were preying on Kingwood residents who were dealing with the stresses of Hurricane Harvey.
Eventually, the major TV stations picked up the story and the City of Houston Office of Emergency Management issued a press release on dealing with predators pretending to be police officers.
Martin, who lives in Kingwood in the Kings Point subdivision, an area that received substantial flooding, said his wife and son were at home yesterday when two men, wearing Homeland Security Investigations badges, dressed in khakis and black shirts, with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) embroidered on them, knocked on the front door.
One told Julie Martin that she had to leave as soon as possible, as the area was under a "mandatory evacuation."
She immediately called her husband, who was, at that moment, in the presence of Houston Police Department commanders, assisting with crisis management of the hurricane rescue operations in Kingwood.
Dave Martin, with his wife waiting on the phone, inquired of Houston Police Department Captain Jacob Atkins if there was a mandatory evacuation. There was not. It was a voluntary evacuation.
Atkins explained that the officers, out assisting the Houston police, had perhaps miscommunicated the evacuation plans in the midst of a highly stressful situation. Atkins quickly acted upon the Martin's situation and sent the officers correct information.
The HSI officers had spent some time knocking on doors before reaching the Martin household. Some alarmed residents shared the information on social media, which became entwined with the fact that there was no mandatory evacuation, all of which dissolved into residents suspecting a scam and sharing those concerns on social media.
"There is no scam," Martin said. "It is not true. It is an unfortunate situation where we have folks trying hard to protect citizens in a very stressful situation."
Even so, Martin added that if there are any doubts on who is acting in an official capacity, to call the non emergency number of the HPD at 713-884-3131
To report suspicious activity or individuals you believe are impersonating ICE officials, members of the public should immediately contact ICE toll free at 866-347-2423
The Office of Emergency Management pointed out in their press release, "Note that during Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is not conducting immigration enforcement operations in the affected area."
"In retrospect," Martin said, "It's a little unrealistic to think the bad guys could have come up with official looking shirts and badges in the middle of the worst storm of the century, go in boats to Kingwood and try to rob people. How would they possibly have gotten away? Everything was pretty much at a stop out here."