Scam of the Month
DISASTER RELIEF SCAMS
When natural disaster strikes, so do the scammers. Below are the three most common scams that happen after a natural disaster, such as a hurricane.
1. FLOOD INSURANCE SCAM
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has reported that homeowners and renters are getting robocalls telling them their “flood premiums are past due.” The robocalls tell people that they must pay immediately in order to have coverage for Hurricane Harvey. This is a con where scammers are preying on people’s fear and uncertainty to get at their money.
If you ever get a call like this, hang up the phone immediately and then contact your insurance agent to check on your flood insurance. Your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance agent may handle your flood insurance policy. If you have a separate flood policy with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP Direct), call 1-800-638-6620.
To learn more about flood insurance, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website at www.fema.gov/nfip.
2. HOME REPAIR SCAMS
Scammers may pretend to be contractors or repair workers. Saying that they have a lot of business after the disaster, they ask for an up-front cash payment to start working on the homeowner’s house first. Then, they take the money and run. We call these home repair scammers “storm-chasers.”
To make sure a contractor is legitimate, TAKE YOUR TIME! Ask your insurance company to come out and survey the damage first, and ask the insurance company for a list of approved contractors to do the work. Ask the contractor for some references, and call the people they have helped in the past. When you hire someone, be sure to get a written estimate and sign a written contract that describes the work, the materials included, an estimated date of completion, the price, and the contractor’s information. Avoid using cash to pay for services.
3. FAKE AGENCY AND FAKE CHARITY SCAMS
If you live in the disaster area, scammers may call or stop by in person, pretending to be from a government agency or charity organization. They ask for your personal and financial information, and then use that information to steal your identity and your money.
Remember, there are no fees to apply for FEMA or SBA assistance or to receive government-sponsored property damage inspections. If someone asks you to pay a fee to receive these services, it is a scam!
If you do not live in the disaster area, you may receive calls or emails from a fake charity, or from a scammer who is pretending to work for a well-known charity. These scammers try to take advantage of your generosity in order to get your financial information. If you give your credit card information to one of these scammers to make a “donation,” you may find your accounts empty.
Remember – never give out your personal or financial information unless YOU made the call to a reputable organization. Do not make disaster relief donations in cash, because there is no guarantee that the cash will ever make it to the charity or the people in need.
Please warn friends and family in Texas about these scams, and remember to be wary of scammers when disaster strikes in Florida!
HOW TO REPORT DISASTER FRAUD
If you suspect disaster fraud, call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 to make a report.
As always, report all scams to the Federal Trade Commission by visiting www.ftc.gov/complaint or calling 1-877-FTC-HELP. Reporting fraud and scams can help law enforcement catch scammers and prevent them from harming others.