Hurricane Harvey will end up being the most costly and destructive storm to ever hit the U.S. Initial estimates say the storm will cost over 190 billion in losses and unfortunately, the majority of people in the hardest hit regions don’t have adequate flood insurance to cover their losses.
The fact is, it’s been 56 years since a major hurricane made landfall in Texas, which means many people weren’t prepared for the massive flooding and devastation that followed. As the cleanup begins many victims will be returning to their homes and businesses and face the daunting challenge of rebuilding their lives.
Unfortunately, after an incident such as Harvey, criminals will try to take advantage of those who are vulnerable and desperate by scamming them. This is why I want to cover the top 3 scams to be on the lookout for if you happen to find yourself in a disaster situation…
Support during Hurricane Harvey by SC National Guard | Public Domain
1) Donations– From TV stations to churches and everything in between, many different organizations seek donations to help those affected by natural disasters. The problem is, some thieves will also ask for donations and pretend to be part of a relief organization such as the American Red Cross.
The key is to look out for signs of deception such as the donation collector being very pushy or constantly calling you. If you want to donate money you should personally do so to a church or person you trust or directly to a well-known relief organization.
2) Identity Theft– As you know, after a natural disaster there is an enormous amount of government aid provided to those who have been affected. Sadly, scammers know this and will use this information to call the victims of the disaster and pretend to represent FEMA or other federal agencies. In other words, they will call victims and ask for their personal information such as date of birth, and social security number. If they have this along with a name and address they can use this information to steal identities.
The best way to avoid being a victim of identity theft is to never give out your social security number over the phone and to contact government relief agencies directly. Plus, if you don’t have them already you should place a credit freeze on your credit report with the three main credit bureau companies. After a devastating experience, the last thing you need is to be scammed when you think you are actually receiving help to rebuild your life.
3) Home Repairs– Even before you get back to your home after a disaster you may be contacted or see repairmen working in your neighborhood. The thing is, fraudsters will actually travel into the damaged area and look for people who need help rebuilding or fixing their home.
The way it works is these so-called repairmen will give you an estimate on the work needed and they will ask you to give them a deposit. Typically, they will ask for a deposit to reserve your spot on their work list.
They may schedule your repairs for a few days away and then when the time comes they are long gone. These types of criminals will work their way through the entire damaged area and try to scam as many people as possible before hitting the road and getting out of town.
Most importantly, if you return to your home and are approached by pushy repairmen you should avoid letting them work on your home. Simply tell them you are accessing the damage before doing anything else.
In addition, even if your insurance company isn’t covering all the repairs you should ask them for a list of approved contractors to do the work. And, don’t forget to ask for a signed contract of the expected work and never pay the full amount up front.
The bottom line is, Hurricane Harvey has brought out the best of humanity with people helping one another… but, it will also bring out the worst, so please watch out for scams.