True Link blog

The 3 Most Common Scams following Natural Disasters (and How to Avoid them!)

Published by:
Arden Elizabeth
|
June 10, 2015

When tornados, floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters hit, the scammers are usually quick to follow. Waiting to target people when they’re most vulnerable, these con artists take advantage of people’s helplessness, trust, and generosity. If the worst case scenario happens in your community, make sure you’re on the lookout for these scams:

Home Repair Scams:

Often called “storm chasers,” fraudsters impersonating repair workers descend on hard hit areas in need of rebuilding and restoration. Claiming to be very busy with other repairs in the neighborhood, many ask for cash to put a homeowner’s name at the top of their waiting list. Others request a large deposit for the promise of repairs that they don’t have the skills, insurance, or resources to complete. After working their way through town, they take the money and run.

Avoidance Tactics:

  • Beware of pushy marketers – don’t be afraid to take down their contact information and do your due diligence with someone you trust
  • Don’t fall for “one-day-only” discounts to hire someone on the spot, do your research and find the right contractor for the job
  • Always ask contractors for references and call their previous clients
  • Before hiring any post-disaster contractor, ask your insurer to survey the damage and provide a list of approved contractors
  • Get a written estimate and sign a detailed contract that includes what work will be performed, what materials are included, when the work will be complete, the price, and the contact info of the contractor; read all agreements carefully before you sign
  • Never pay in full today for the promise of services later, and avoid using cash
  • Write down the contractor’s license and vehicle information in case you need to report them to the authorities

Identity Theft Scams:

Scammers take advantage of those awaiting relief from government agencies and organizations by posing as an official of these groups. Calling or even stopping by in person, they ask for personal and financial information like the homeowner’s full name and Social Security number. Once they have this data, they are able to commit identity theft and open up credit cards in the homeowner’s name.

Avoidance Tactics:

  • Never give out your Social Security number over the phone unless you initiated the call
  • Consult someone you trust if you’re feeling uncertain about requests for money or personal information
  • There are no fees to apply for FEMA or SBA assistance or to receive government-sponsored property damage inspections; any request to pay fees is fraudulent
  • If you’re concerned about identity theft, keep a close eye on your credit;place a fraud alert on your credit report if you have serious concerns

Donation Scams:

Even those who weren’t affected by a disaster can be targeted by related scams. Fraudsters from sham charities, or those falsely claiming to be with a legitimate organization, contact generous individuals for their donations. Describing the desperate situation many are in and stressing the immediate need for funds, they convince their targets to provide their credit card information over the phone. The card is charged and those in need never see a penny.

Avoidance Tactics:

  • Never give out personal or financial information over the phone unless you initiated the call
  • Beware of pushy telemarketers – don’t hesitate to take down their contact information and do your due diligence with the charity directly before returning the call
  • Consult someone you trust if you’re feeling uncertain about requests for money or personal information
  • Ask the caller questions a legitimate charity could answer like “What percentage of my over-the-phone donation will go to support the cause?”
  • Never send cash; you can’t be sure the organization or those affected by the disaster will receive your donation

If you have a relative who is particularly vulnerable to scams – including a senior or adult with special needs – you may want to take financial protection one step further with a True Link Card. Block over-the-phone purchases, prevent charges from unscrupulous charities, or restrict transactions above a certain amount while allowing your loved one the freedom and independence to buy the things they need.

Photo
by DVIDSHUB / CC BY
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