With the 2020 National Hurricane Preparedness Week wrapping up, Lone Star Leal Aid would like to share a different spin on other ways to be prepared for what is to come after the storm. It only takes one hurricane to ruin a community or a person’s life, but it can also only take one scammer to do the same. Do not become a victim of a hurricane scam this year or any year to follow. With the following information, you will be able to prevent hurricane scams from happening to you.
Common Hurricane Scams
The opportune time for fraudsters to make their move is after the storm. Natural disasters such as hurricanes bring severe weather that wake scammers looking to make quick cash. They target vulnerable people who need repairs or are willing to contribute to charity. They use text, email, mail, and door-to-door soliciting to prey on those affected. Common scams include:
- Charity scams
- Insurance scams
- Contracting scams
- FEMA scams
After a major hurricane, people are inspired to donate money and supplies for hurricane relief, but not all charities are legitimate. Crooks are eager to step in and take advantage of your generosity and compassion for others. Scammers will steal your money by posing as a genuine charity taking away your money and divert giving to legitimate charities. You may be approached on the street, at your door, through an email or text that will direct you to a fake website requesting a donation. Here is what you can do:
- Approach charity organizations directly to make a donation or offer support.
- Research the organization’s name.
- Never send money or give out personal information, credit card details or online account details to anyone you don’t know or trust.
- If you are approached by a street collector, ask to see their identification. If you are unsure or have any doubts, don’t pay.
- If you are approached by the collector at your door, proceed to ask them questions about their charity. If they become defensive or cannot answer your questions, close the door.
- Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for an up-front payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card, or electronic currency (Bitcoin). This is a rare way to send money.
- Legitimate charities are registered meaning you can look them up.
If you need to file an insurance claim after a hurricane, do not make any rash decisions about hiring someone to handle your claim. Be wary of individuals who go door-to-door soliciting their business in the aftermath of a catastrophe. Most importantly, do not let anyone scare you or force you into signing a contract. This can lead you to forfeiting a significant portion of your insurance dollars. Here is what you can do:
- Try to settle your claim directly with your insurance company. Your insurer provides and adjuster at no charge to you. Ask your insurance company representative to help you with your claim.
- If your claim is complicated and you want to hire a public adjuster or attorney, make sure that person is qualified to handle your case. You can call the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) regarding your public adjuster questions.
Contracting scams is one of the major scams that pop up after a hurricane. These individuals and businesses prey on hurricane victims knowing they are in their most vulnerable state. They convince homeowners that a large deposit must be provided first in order to repair your home. Be suspicious of door-to-door contractors who give low estimates or refuse to leave a contract overnight for review. These scammers also ask for a ton of money on temporary repairs. Here is what you can do:
- Get more than one estimate.
- Research the contractor and get references from past customers.
- Keep all copies of documents including the total cost, the work to be done, the schedule payment terms and other expectations.
- Do not sign a contract with blanks.
- Ask for proof of insurance.
- Find out in writing if the contractor will place a lien, security interest or mortgage on your property.
- Ask for guarantees in writing.
- Don’t sign completion papers or make a final payment until the job is completed properly.
Government agencies provide disaster assistance to those affected by recent storms. Scam artists, identity thieves and other criminals may attempt to prey on vulnerable survivors. The most common post-disaster fraud practice is individuals posing as government employees such as FEMA. They act as inspectors by visiting people’s homes and ask for their social security number, bank information and sometimes even demand an immediate payment for inspection. Here is what you can do:
- Keep in mind that federal workers never ask or accept money.
- Ask for identification if you are doubtful.
- You should not be asked to pay a fee to apply for or to receive disaster assistance from FEMA.
- If you suspect the validity of a person claiming to work for FEMA, you are encouraged to call the toll free FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.
If you think that you have been scammed, make sure to report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud, at 866-720-5721. The line is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Federal Trade Commission is an independent agency of the United States government whose principal mission is the enforcement of civil laws intended to protect consumers from predatory business practices and the promotion of consumer protection. To file a consumer complaint, register for the national DO NOT CALL list, report identity theft, get your free credit report, order free resources, or get email updates, click here.
Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves the millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at www.lonestarlegal.org.
Media contact: Clarissa Ayala, firstname.lastname@example.org