Scammers are Common After Hurricanes and Other Disasters
It is wonderful to watch so many people come together to help each other prior to, during, and after a disaster. People literally risk their lives to save each other. They step up with money, tools, supplies, and their own two hands. Unfortunately, not all people are of good will. Just as we see the best of humanity during disasters like Irma and Harvey, we also see the worst. These people set up scams to steal from people. And they have already gotten started.
Fake Construction and Repair
One of the first things on your mind after a hurricane is no doubt getting your house fixed. You want to get the wet materials out to stop mold from growing. You want to return home from shelters, hotels, relatives, wherever you managed to find safety. It is understandable that if someone comes to your door offering to solve your problems, you want to believe them. You shouldn’t.
No one should come knocking on your door out of the blue, offering to fix your house. You should go directly through your insurance company. Please, make sure you only work with reputable companies. Keep in mind that anyone can make a business card, set up a website, and look as if they have been in business for many years. Don’t let your need to get your home fixed allow you to get tricked into giving money to a company that has no intention of doing the work, or is unqualified to do so. That will just create a second disaster.
Apparently, quite a few people got calls informing them that their flood insurance payments were overdue. If you are concerned that a premium is late, call your flood insurance company directly. Do not bother responding to any emails. If you receive a letter, don’t call the number on the letter. Check the number on your insurance documents, and call that number to confirm they contacted you.
Phishing (pronounced fishing) is when people trick victims into revealing personal information that they can use to engage in identity theft or in other damaging conduct. These people are very good at using social engineering to fool people, especially during periods of high stress. No matter who calls you, emails you, writes you, or even walks up to your house, make sure that they are who they say they are before you provide them with any information.
Keep Documents Safe – Destroy Them Properly
As you are throwing out documents from your flooded home, be careful about any papers containing information that could be used to steal your identity. Watch out for bank statements, credit cards and statements, utility bills, anything that contains any kind of useful information. Make sure to destroy any such documents properly.
In addition to scamming the victims of hurricanes, scammers go after people who want to help those victims. As with all of the other things mentioned here, it is critical, that you make certain, that any charity is legitimate, before you donate. It is easy to create a legitimate looking website that can fool even the most intelligent person. Do research before you donate. Make certain that the person is from the charity they claim to be with, as well. When in doubt, call the reputable charity and make sure the person is legitimate. Do not respond to phone, email, or web solicitations. Instead, go directly to a legitimate charity’s website, and make the donation there. Be sure to check the domain name. Scammers will register similar domain names to fool you. They will even make the website look like the actual charity’s website.
Please Remember: Watch for Scammers after Hurricanes
The best way to stay safe is to remember to be careful before you trust someone. Here are 10 things you can do:
- Always call the phone number you know is correct for your own insurance company. Your agent may interact with you through email after you start a claim, but will not randomly contact you through email.
- If you need to speak with a government agency, check to make sure you are calling the correct number.
- Government agencies do not begin interactions through email.
- Government agencies will not call and ask you for money.
- People can easily create fake websites, don’t believe someone just because they have a site.
- Don’t trust people who just show up at your house.
- Double check to make sure that charities are real and that they have a history of actually giving money and items to people in need.
- Make sure that the number you are calling or the website you are using to make a donation, is real. Scammers will copy websites and they are good at it.
- Don’t share information with anyone until you are certain they are who they say they are.
- Be certain to destroy any documents which contain information that can be used to steal your identity.
If you are suspicious of someone, report them to the police, the FTC, or the company/agency they are claiming to represent (if it is a real company). If you are afraid you have been scammed, call the police immediately.
To everyone impacted by Harvey and Irma, I hope you get through this time of difficulty quickly, safely, and without being scammed.