What are some common scams that homeowners should be aware of after a natural disaster?
Con artists and scammers crawl out of the woodwork after natural disasters befall people. Here are some tips to avoid being taken advantage.
When Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida it was nearly a Category 5 storm and caused immense damage as it moved on shore and across the state. Ian didn’t stop there, moving north battering parts of Georgia before making landfall a second time in South Carolina.
As with any natural disaster, people affected will be working to pick up the pieces and good Samaritans desiring to offer a helping hand. However, unscrupulous individuals see this as the perfect opportunity to make a quick buck or take advantage of people to get prized information. Here are some scams to watch out for to avoid getting ripped off.
Watch out for impersonators
People can be desperate for help in the wake of a disaster, especially if they do not have insurance. Con artists find this as a choice moment to get personal details or profit from people’s misery. Scammers will contact potential victims via phone, text, mail, email, and even go door to door in areas affected by hurricanes and damaging storms.
They will present themselves as government representatives from agencies tasked with aiding those affected by a natural disaster as well as insurance claims adjusters or representatives of insurance companies. Always ask for identification, but it is better if you initiate contact when seeking government aid or filing a claim with an insurance company. If approached, verify the identity of the person by calling the agency or company.
These scammers will ask you to share your personal information such as identification, social security information, and other personal information which can be used to steal your identity.
Never share any of these details unless you are 100 percent sure that you are working with a legitimate representative from a governmental agency and in most cases your insurance adjuster won’t need it.
If you think you have accidentally shared your personal information with a con artist, take immediate steps to protect your identity.
They may also say that a fee is required to access government aid, an absolute falsehood, there are no fees for applying to government aid programs. No FEMA, federal, or state workers will ask for or accept money. Call FEMA at (800) 621-3362 if you’re unsure if someone is truly a FEMA representative.
Fake contractors begin to circle areas in the days after they’ve been hit by a natural disaster offering a quick solution to people’s repair needs. They’ll usually go through neighbors knocking door to door but never hire a contractor on the spot.
Before hiring a contractor, have your insurance company give you an estimate of what damage will be covered by your policy. Check with the Better Business Bureau whether the contractor is licensed and has a solid record of working. Also ask for a few recommendation letters from previous work the contractor has performed, don’t take their word on it.
The scammers will often use pressure tactics, limited time deals and high-pressure sales, as well as ask for money to do the work up front. Get a written estimate for the cost of the repairs and while some contractors may ask for a down payment on the work, it should never be more than 25 percent. You shouldn’t pay anything until the materials to complete the job have been delivered to your home.
Offers to be intermediaries
There are two big red flags to watch out for in the wake of a natural disaster according to George Ball, Chairman of Sanders Morris Harris.
One is when a contractor asks a homeowner to “sign a benefit of claim” with their insurance company to do the repairs. These contractors, even if they do a good job, will charge your insurer an elevated rate.
Another is someone claiming to be an insurance adjustor or licensed attorney offering to “work on your behalf” with your insurance company.
Should someone call you offering either of these, you should “hang up real fast” Ball told CBS News.
In order to verify that an individual is on the up-and-up and accredited with your state, contact your state’s insurance department. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners provides the contact information for each of the 56 departments in the US and its territories.
Disasters bring out the best in most people and many find they only way that they can help is by opening up their wallet. Those wishing to donate should not pay in cash, by wire transfer or cryptocurrency but rather with a check or credit card. If you have never heard of or are unsure about the charity you should do research on them first.
One of the best things you can do to help others to not be negatively affected by fraud and con artists is reporting them to the authorities. If you have been affected or suspect that someone is trying to scam you, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) and other government agencies.