When you’ve just come through a disaster like a hurricane, flood, or wildfire, the last thing you want to worry about is getting scammed. Unfortunately, when people are at their most scared and vulnerable, that’s when scammers try to take advantage. Here are a few things you should know about protecting yourself from scams after a disaster.
Types of scams to watch for
Identity theft. If you get an unsolicited call from someone saying they’re from your insurance company, your mortgage company, or an agency such as FEMA, don’t give out any personal information. Hang up and call that entity directly to verify. Scammers are looking for information like your Social Security number, bank account info, even your insurance policy number and details in order to steal your identity or otherwise cheat you.
Insurance fraud or abuse. Someone may try to convince you to hire them to inspect your home’s damage. Your insurance company will provide an adjustor for free—you don’t have to hire one yourself. Keep in mind that most claims can be handled without the involvement of outside adjustors—or attorneys. Remember to give your insurance company time to settle the claim. In the case of a disaster like a hurricane, they will be dealing with thousands of claims at once. (If you run into problems, you can always hire an outside professional later.)
Charity scams. Maybe you personally weren’t affected by the disaster, and you’d like to help those who have been. Maybe you see an appeal on social media or get an email request for donations. Before you donate, check out the charity to be sure it’s real. Organizations like Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or Give.org can help vet an organization you’d like to support. If you get an email appeal, be cautious about opening it, and don’t click links from an unknown source.
Fake government representatives. Agencies like FEMA, HUD, and the U.S. Small Business Association do not charge a fee for helping you apply for disaster aid, or inspecting your home after a disaster. They will not ask for personal info like your Social Security number or bank account information. They also do not endorse individual contractors.
Construction fraud. After a storm or other disaster, you may see construction industry salespeople going door-to-door in an affected neighborhood. While some of these folks are reputable, many are not. Be wary of any contractor who wants to rush you into a contract, wants a large amount of money before starting the job, or who says they can work it so you don’t have to pay your deductible.
If possible, choose a contractor recommended by someone you know and who has a positive reputation in the area. For major jobs, get several written estimates to compare. Lowball bids often are too good to be true. And don’t make your final payment until you’ve inspected the repairs and you’re satisfied with them.
Common sense ways to protect yourself
- Ask questions. Ask to see ID, ask for references and to see appropriate licenses. Ask if you don’t understand something you’re being asked to sign.
- Don’t allow yourself to be rushed. Take time to compare bids and read through contracts. A little time spent now can help you avoid a lot of frustration later.
- Pay with a check or credit card. You’ll have a record of what you pay, and possible recourse if you need to stop payment. And ask for and keep all receipts.
- If you have questions, contact your insurance agent or your insurance company directly.
Questions about your coverage?
When disaster strikes, the right insurance coverage is essential. If you have questions about your coverage—whether it’s for your home, vehicles, or business—please give Lakewood Financial Services a call. Our agency, located in Lakewood Ranch, Florida, serves the needs of thousands of clients just like you. Our goal is to find insurance coverage tailor-made for you at the most competitive rate. Call us at (941) 747-4600 or contact us online.
For more information about scams:
Housing Counseling Disaster Recovery Toolkit