It is unimaginable that after such a devastating natural disaster such as Sandy that there are those looking to prosper and even take advantage of victims. It is a reality that scams pop up after disasters, deepening the suffering of a community and the people looking to simply rebuild their homes and businesses.
You should be especially careful if you are a senior citizen. These so called ‘storm-chasing’ scam companies prey on the elderly, assuming they are more vulnerable to a trick and they are the ones who need quick assistance.
Here are some tips so you can be aware and help others to avoid falling prey to scams related to charities, home/business repair, debris removal, auto sales, and investments.
Fake charities - Be aware of charities going door to door, contacting you through social media and calling you on the phone. Simply ask for written information on the Charity before you donate and do a quick online search to make sure they are a legitimate organization. Keep in mind that all charities must be registered in the State to do business. It is suggested to donate to charities you already know and always avoid a cash donation. Be cautious of any charity that does not explain how your money will assist disaster victims, and avoid giving to someone who demands a donation immediately.
Social Media and Email Scams - The U.S. Department of Justice established the National Center for Disaster Fraud. The center warns of requests via social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter which can often entice users to click on a shocking photo or footage of the disaster. If you receive such a request, the Center urges users to not click on links as that can require an installation of software into your computer which could contain a virus or malware. Instead, independently seek information about a charity you are interested in.
Repair scams - Beware of companies that come to your door offering assistance and those that claim to be a part of the Federal government. Be sure to request any repair company’s insurance information and license number so you insure that the repair company is licensed to work in the County in which you live. Upfront fees for repairs shouldn’t be more than 25% of the estimate. Make sure that you don’t pay anyone in full before the work is completed.
Take your time to research by asking for references and see past work completed.
Talk to your insurance company before you agree to the work and do not sign over your insurance check to the repair company. Although you may feel desperate to get the work done, never hire anyone on the spot, take time to research the person and/or the company. Get everything in writing!
Identity theft - Many people lose important papers and documents after a natural disaster or those documents become exposed to the public. These items, which often contain personal information such as Social Security and credit card and bank account numbers, can end up in the hands of identity thieves. To avoid issues it is important to contact your creditors immediately to report lost credit cards and make them aware of your situation. Contact your bank if you have lost checks or a bank card missing and reroute your mailings as soon as possible through the US postal service.
Never give out personal information such as your social security number or insurance information. Consider shredding all documents with personal information and checking your credit report to insure nothing illegal has happened.
Investor Scams - Look out for investment scams following a disaster especially those receiving large insurance or government checks. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission says such scams can take several forms, including seeking investments for companies that claim to be involved in revenue-producing clean-up; guaranteeing a high return on an investment.
Do your research, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Make sure to see that the investor is licensed and that the investment is also registered or licensed. Ask questions and “Know that promises of fast and high profits, with little or no risk, are classic signs of fraud,” warns the SEC.
Not everyone is out to scam you, but if you follow those tips you can protect yourself from the few that might be!