How To Avoid Being Scammed After a Natural Disaster

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As the aftermath of Hurricane Ida continues to wreak havoc on Mississippi and Louisiana homes and residents, not to mention national supply chains already struggling from the pandemic, the powerful Class 4 hurricane hasn’t claimed the last of its victims.

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The Federal Trade Commission issued warnings about scammers that seek out victims during national emergencies and natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires. From home contractors who don’t deliver what they promise to outright fraudulent activity and theft, it’s especially important to be vigilant during a national disaster.

Watch Out For Fake Charities

One of the most common scams, according to the FTC and American Association of Retired Persons, a nonprofit organization that empowers older adults, is to establish fake charities and collect money from well-meaning people who want to help out in a time of crisis.

The FTC advises to Google the name of the organization, along with words like “fraud,” or “scam” to determine if the organization is legit. You can also check the Better Business Bureau website for reports of complaints, or look up the organization on the National Association of State Charity Officials website.

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Don’t assume that a charity is legitimate just because it has a website or Facebook page. Also, avoid giving to sites like GoFundMe unless you know the individual directly. If you do know the family affected, you may consider a gift card to their favorite restaurant or grocery store, or hand-delivering a home-cooked meal in lieu of a donation that may have hidden fees or tax ramifications for the recipient. Plus, they might have other immediate needs worth lending a hand to first.

Research Contractors Carefully

Be cautious of people offering emergency debris removal and clean-up, AARP warns. Some may charge high prices or demand upfront payment, but then take your money and run. Legitimate businesses may need licenses and insurance to operate. Ask to see their credentials. Read Yelp reviews and check the BBB for a listing. The best way to find home contractors is through word-of-mouth, so you can be confident that they come recommended by people you trust.

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When you’re dealing with contractors of any kind, always pay by check made out to the business name. Do not use peer-to-peer payment services such as Venmo or Zelle, as neither service offers purchase protection. These services are not designed for business use and your transaction may not be protected if you discover the person you paid was a scammer.

Don’t Pay for FEMA Relief

The federal government acted quickly to deploy Federal Emergency Management Agency workers across Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, according to an AP report. FEMA disbursed meals, water, tarps and generators even before the storm.

More: Check Your Bank Account: Scammers Are Trying To Steal Your Child Tax Credit

But FEMA never charges an application fee and won’t ask for money in exchange for services. If someone is requesting money to help you apply for FEMA relief, steer clear. They are probably a scammer.

Protect Your Personal Information — Online and Off

Never give personal information, including your social security number or credit card information, to anyone claiming to be a government official or part of a charity organization. If you are sharing personal information, such as health insurance account numbers, make sure to keep the information well-guarded.

If you are making a purchase by credit card over the phone, be sure to move to a secure location where no one can overhear the digits. Better yet, ask if there’s a way to complete the transaction online through a secure and encrypted site.

Likewise, if you are making online purchases, try to avoid doing so on a public Wi-Fi network. It may be difficult if your home is without power to conduct business securely online, but using a credit or debit card that generates a virtual account number for each online transaction can add a layer of protection.

See: Crypto and Investment Scams Are Skyrocketing This Year
Discover: 10 Warning Signs That Online Job Offer Is a Money Scam

Know Where To Turn

Preparation is key before, during and after storms and other natural disasters. By being aware of some of the risks, you’ll know what to watch for. The National Center for Disaster Fraud was established after hurricane Katrina to help improve the detection, prevention, investigation and prosecution of fraud during disasters, according to AARP. The organization could be a helpful resource if you, or someone you know, has been a victim of a scam or suspects fraudulent activity in the wake of a disaster.

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Last updated: September 1, 2021

About the Author

Dawn Allcot is a full-time freelance writer and content marketing specialist who geeks out about finance, e-commerce, technology, and real estate. Her lengthy list of publishing credits include Bankrate, Lending Tree, and Chase Bank. She is the founder and owner of GeekTravelGuide.net, a travel, technology, and entertainment website. She lives on Long Island, New York, with a veritable menagerie that includes 2 cats, a rambunctious kitten, and three lizards of varying sizes and personalities – plus her two kids and husband. Find her on Twitter, @DawnAllcot.

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