Here's How You Can Avoid Being Scammed After A Natural Disaster.
On one coast, Hurricane Season is in full swing. On the other coast, wildfires are burning. Parts of the country are experiencing heavy snows and devastating storms. Undoubtedly, disaster preparedness is on the forefront of many people’s minds as we head into the Fall season. Many people are focused on what they can do to be physically safe in the event of a natural disaster. However, it’s just as important to know what to do keep yourself financially safe.
Often, when a major disaster makes headlines, predators or con artists follow shortly after, looking to make a quick buck from people’s misfortunes. When you’re scrambling to recover from an emergency or donating to a relief fund, fraud is often the least of your concerns. Even so, disaster fraud is such a prevalent issue that both the FTC and FCC have released helpful tips and information to help keep consumers safe from being scammed.
Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind to avoid being the victim of fraud in the wake of a weather emergency:
Be careful of offers for quick cleanup or repairs after a disaster. Often, after a disaster, unlicensed contractors or scammers promise quick or discounted repairs, clean-up, or debris removal. They may demand up-front cash payment and then not do the work at all or do an unprofessional job that does not help or can even make things worse for you. In some cases, you can avoid being scammed by verifying their information. Ask for an ID or license and proof of insurance. Try and gather contact information. When possible, run a background check. This will help you to discover information that may not be readily available through reviews or online searches. If you aren’t sure about the cost of a service, get more than one estimate. If a service seems too good to be true, it probably is. Repair and cleanup—when done right—often takes time. Once you decide on a contractor or company to use, read your contract carefully so that you understand the terms of what you are agreeing to in the event that something goes wrong. Finally, never pay in cash and ask for some sort of receipt or other proof of purchase.
Look out for imposters. Just as many unlicensed contractors and handyman will offer their services to get extra money, many scammers pretend to offer these services to get access to your money, home, or valuables. Many service people, like those who do maintenance, cable, or electric work need access to the inside of where you live. Letting people in without checking their credentials is dangerous. Again, always check any identification and take down contact information of individuals who may be working in and around your home. If you aren’t sure of whether the person is who they say they are, contact the company to verify their identities. Finally, if someone just shows up at your door offering services, don’t let them in. Can you discretely take a picture of their vehicle and license plate or take a note of the information? Can you discretely take a picture of the person or their driver’s license? If they have a business card, take it. Having this information can help you identify the individuals or company if any issue comes up.
Be wary of job scams.After an emergency, especially with the effects of Covid, many people are finding themselves out of work and in need of a job. Many scammers know this and will post fake job offers to steal your information or get money from you. If you apply for a job and they ask for information like your social security number, credit card numbers, or bank account information, do not share it. If the job asks you to pay them money before you start work, it’s probably a scam.
Be wary of rental scams. Just like many individuals are out of a job, many people may find themselves out of a home as they are forced into emergency evacuations or they need somewhere else to live while repairs are being done. Some scammers are savvy enough to change the contact information of real listings of homes or apartments for rent and replace it with their own. Others create fake listings and promise low rent or amazing amenities. If you are searching for a place to live, always work with a realtor or the rental office until your living situations are settled. If you can, go look at the property before moving in and avoid working with people who refuse to meet or ask you to wire money for rent or pay security deposits before signing a lease.
Watch out for charity and disaster relief scams. After a disaster, it’s natural to want to help out where you can. Many people donate money to charities and individuals to help. Charity scams are often the perfect opportunity for criminals to make money without being caught. Avoid fraud by donating to well-known charities through their website. Make sure you are on the real website and the URL or domain is correct. If they are a local organization, you can also verify their legitimacy by seeing if they are registered in your state. Verify phone numbers before you text to donate or call to contact them. Don’t open suspicious emails. If an organization or individual emails you for donations without prior contact, don’t give them money. If you’re donating to an organization or individual through social media, do your best to verify the information. Many users will often post warnings of potential scams, but it’s not always possible to verify a GoFundMe or other crowdfunded post before it’s too late. So, proceed with caution.
All in all, if you are cautious and prepared, you can stay safe and avoid being scammed. Linked Investigations, the go-to private investigation company based in California, has conducted numerous undercover operations on thieves, scammers, and con artists, had them arrested, and saved companies and individuals millions of dollars. If you need a background check or assistance with verifying information in the event of potential fraud, or surveillance to catch a criminal, reach out to Linked Investigations to speak with a licensed private investigator about your situation. Owner Mike Garroutte has been a private investigator since 1982 and is licensed in the state of California.