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Florida takes aim at Gulf oil spill-related scams

The state attorney general is investigating two Florida companies over claims they offered free emergency response training for oil spill clean up work but then withheld students' training certificates unless they paid a large fee.

A total of 10 complaints made to the Florida attorney general say Able Body Labor of Clearwater and Southern Cat of Panama City advertised the training as free, but when the lessons were over, the companies asked students to pay hefty fees before giving them their certificates.

In some cases, the people who went through training were unemployed and desperate for work.

"When disasters strike, fraud follows closely behind," Attorney General Bill McCollum said in a statement. "Consumers who have any complaints about fraud or scams related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill should report to my office immediately."

Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard, or HAZWOPER, training is required for anyone who is exposed or could be exposed to hazardous substances on the job, including some people working on oil spill clean-up efforts in and around the Gulf of Mexico.

But most of this training should be free -- and most people don't need the most intense HAZWOPER training, which is required only for supervisors and boat captains.

And many companies hiring workers for oil spill clean-up jobs provide the training after workers are hired, making it unnecessary for people looking for jobs to pay for training on their own.

Misty Gill of Pensacola told the attorney general's office that Able Body Labor asked her for $450 at the end of a HAZWOPER training course and would not give her the training certificate she had earned until she paid.

To read the complete article, visit www.miamiherald.com.

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