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Disaster Scams: How to Avoid Them and What To Do

Coping After a Weather Emergency: Keep Your Guard Up

Although you may have lost your belongings in a weather emergency, you haven't lost your good judgment. You can protect your personal information and finances by following a few rules:

  • Ask to see the ID of anyone who wants to enter your home or business. Check them out with your state and local consumer protection officials. Check signage on trucks and cars for local addresses and phone numbers. Deal with contractors from your community.
  • Before you give out your personal information, make sure you really need to, and ask for identification. Some scam artists masquerade as safety inspectors or utility workers who say immediate work is required. They may actually be casing your place and seeking personal information. Ask for identification before you let anyone in, and make sure you can believe it by checking out the company. Learn how to guard against identity theft in the aftermath of a disaster.
  • Don’t believe any promises. Get more than one estimate for repairs or service.
  • Don’t pay the full price for service work until the service is completed and you’re satisfied with the work.
  • Be wary of anyone who asks you to pay cash for their services.
  • Be aware that some people are imposters who claim they can help you qualify for FEMA funds for a fee. FEMA does not charge application fees.
  • Verify the credentials of anyone who is offering you low-interest government loans. Contact the agencies to confirm the offers.
  • Shop around. Some businesses advertise "disaster" sales offering appliances and major electronics at reduced prices. While these could be bargains, they also could be gimmicks.
  • Don't sign documents you don’t understand. Ask someone you trust, like a family member, to read them with you. You can always ask the company or organization what the fine print means, but it’s what’s in writing that matters — not what someone tells you. If you’re not satisfied with the business’s response, take your business somewhere else

5 Natural Disaster Scams To Watch For

Insurance Fraud
Usually the first concern people have after their house has been wiped off by a tornado, fire or a hailstorm is the money that will cost to fix the damages. At this time, fake insurance agents will jump on the opportunity, trying to sell you a coverage plan after the incident has occurred and encourage filing a claim. But that won't work. If you didn't have insurance at the time of the event, no insurance agency will cover your expenses.

A good way to escape such a scenario is to do some background research on the agency and ask for documents that confirm the agent's association with that particular company. If you're in a desperate situation, consult people who have been through similar situations and have them refer an insurance agent, rather than taking a chance on a possible fraudster. (Find out how to spot internet fraud and protect your hard-earned money. 

Contractor Fraud
Along with the insurance agents, also be careful of contractors who show up at your doorstep following the accident. It is a growing trend that scammers pose as contractors - willing to begin work immediately. 

Avoid contractors who ask for payment up front. After pocketing the money, the repair might turn out to be poor quality or they might even leave the work half way. Checking around and calling references will place you in a safe spot. 

Fake Charity Organizations

  • Whether it is a hurricane, oil spill or earthquakes, victims who are without food and shelter need help. But your contribution is worth nothing if you don't invest time in researching the organization you decide to link up with. 
  • In this case, your first step would be checking if your selected charity organization actually exists by visiting Give.org and CharityNavigator.org. However, this excludes some groups listed as churches. 
  • A huge number of these organizations are registered with the Internal Revenue Service, which provides another way to check up on them. 

E-scams
These are widespread and you definitely have one in your inbox. These scams might take the form of an email from group linking to a charity organization for a specific relief fund asking for donations. Do not fall for this emotional trap. 

If you are interested in participating with an organization that you find online, try to contact them or gather information through another reliable source. In any case, do not give out your credit card or any account information as that can bite you later. 

Facebook Scams
Not everything you see on your social media website is true and dependable. While this may not take away your dollars, it can harm your personal life. Scam artists have created pages promising "Japanese Tsunami RAW Tidal Wave Footage!" It not only updates automatic "likes" if you click on the link, but also asks for personal information from users.

 

Click the link below to visit the National Center for Disaster Fraud

Frequently Asked Questions