Hurricane Florence recently dumped more than 30 inches of rain in some parts of the Carolinas, making roads inaccessible and causing difficulties for affected residents attempting to start cleaning up the aftermath.
Unfortunately, the victims have non-weather-related issues that could pose challenges: The tricks of experienced scammers hoping to prey on unsuspecting individuals.
One of the most pressing needs hurricane victims face is getting help with home repairs made necessary by downed trees, high winds and water damage.
Statistics from the AARP report that more than 3,200 homeowners submitted complaints last year after Hurricane Harvey about people impersonating government officials, extending offers of nonexistent home repairs, price gouging and other attempts to capitalize on moments of desperation.
Government employees offering help will always have identification badges. It’s not enough if the supposed representative has a branded shirt or hat.
Also, if a company knocks on your door and offers a price quote or otherwise approaches you in an unsolicited way, the safest thing to do is hold off on immediately consenting to work and take your time to research the company first — ideally through an organization such as the Better Business Bureau.
Always be wary of any contractor or company that tries to rush you into making home repair decisions. If you feel pressured to sign contracts and agree to future work, it’s best to look for other options. People from legitimate companies realize their customers need and deserve time to reach conclusions on their own.
It’s also good advice never to pay upfront in full for any planned repairs. Instead, negotiate an arrangement where if you pay upfront at all, the amount given is less than half of the total cost. Moreover, think about charging that amount to a credit card instead of paying in cash.
Similarly to the techniques lottery scammers use to coerce people to give valuable details while claiming fake “winnings,” scammers that target individuals after hurricanes ask for specifics like bank account or credit card numbers from people who want to donate to victims.
People around the globe are often so sympathetic toward those affected that they fail to verify the authenticity of a campaign. The U.S. government set up the National Center for Disaster Fraud in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina to deal with an unprecedented number of scammers luring people to donate money. You can report suspicious activity via phone, email or standard mail.
Following Hurricane Harvey, the organization reportedly received more than 3,000 complaints about fake charities within days of the storm.
You should be concerned if any organization emphasizes a tremendous sense of urgency about getting your donation. Genuine organizations will gratefully receive your donation when you want to contribute.
When you’re ready to give, look for official websites set up by well-known organizations, such as the American Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity. Alternatively, focus on lists of charitable giving opportunities compiled by verified news outlets.
Another practical tip for avoiding scammers is to be especially careful with crowdfunding campaigns. It’s understandable that you might feel they allow you to have a more personalized impact than giving to a national campaign might. After all, the descriptions of crowdfunding appeals often feature vivid, heart-wrenching details about the effects of a storm and how they disrupted people’s lives.
However, history shows numerous instances of crowdfunding campaigns not linked to the people they were supposed to help.
Be cautious if a crowdfunding description only has vague or difficult-to-verify information. Aim to contribute to crowdfunding initiatives backed by tax-exempt charities that you can verify. Or, restrict your giving to crowdfunding campaigns associated with people you know.
It’s a good sign if the campaigns you choose are exceptionally transparent and frequent with the updates they post. Periodic content about the project can help you feel assured your funds are being used as expected.
Hurricane victims may receive calls from self-identified repair company representatives seeking information. It’s crucial to avoid providing sensitive information over the phone to strangers, mainly because you can’t confirm their identities.
A Better Business Bureau branch in Western Virginia also warns that the IRS phone scam has become more common since Hurricane Florence. It involves someone posing as an IRS agent seeking money related to unpaid taxes via wire transfers or other means.
However, the IRS generally contacts people by mail about those late payments first, not via telephone. Plus, you’re never forced to make immediate payments.
Scammers count on people thinking too quickly and agreeing to situations without weighing their options.
By staying aware of the tips mentioned here, you can steer clear of sneaky scams that cause further hardships after disasters.
Photo by Casey Horner
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