If natural disasters weren’t bad enough all by themselves, unfortunately, they also bring on frauds and scams. Here are some of the most common.
As we write this, Hurricane Ian slams the southeastern United States with category-four hurricane force. Not only are natural disasters and severe weather events devastating for the people most affected, but they also create a perfect storm, so to speak, for scammers and fraudsters to prey on both vulnerable and giving people.
We’re advocates for data security — all data. Electronic or otherwise. And we don’t want people in our community to be victimized by both the storm and con artists, so we compiled a list of common scams that appear during natural disasters so survivors of Hurricane Ian can identify suspicious behavior, avoid being a victim, and ideally, report it to the authorities.
Whenever a natural disaster strikes, many people need help, and just as many people want to help. But there are also unsavory types who try to profit off others’ misery and misfortune, especially during a crisis like a hurricane when things are chaotic and everything is thrown upside down — literally.. Whether you’re affected by Hurricane Ian or want to help people who are, below are scams to watch out for.
Unfortunately, fake charities seeking donations for disaster relief is one of the most common scams after a natural disaster. It’s incredibly easy for scammers to use phone number spoofing and social engineering to create a compelling story. If there is a charity to which you want to donate, do it through their official website after you verify their authenticity with the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar. The National Association of State Charity Officials can also tell you what charities are registered in your state.
After a disaster, some people pose as official disaster aid workers trying claiming to help survivors complete applications while asking for fees or claiming to need insurance information. Be aware that federal and state workers never ask for or accept money for federal disaster assistance and they always have proper identification and provide it readily. If any of these are amiss, it’s likely a scam.
If someone contacts you claiming to represent your insurance company, and asks for account numbers or any other personal information, hang up immediately and call your insurance company on the number provided on your monthly statement. You can continue your business if the call is legitimate (highly unlikely). If not, let them know that you received a scam call.
And if you’re a policyholder with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), reach them directly at 800-638-6620. Never give any personal information to anyone who calls you and claims to be with the NFIP.
Many people’s homes need repairs after a hurricane. That’s when the fraudulent contractors come out hoping to take money without doing any work. Be cautious if a contractor promises fast repairs or asks for full or sizable payment before work is complete. Never give insurance policy numbers or coverage details to anyone you don’t have a contract with. If you’re considering a contractor, ask for licensing and insurance information. Many states have online services to verify licensing. And watch out for a FEMA ”endorsement.” The Federal Emergency Management Agency does not certify contractors.
If possible, use a contractor you’ve had a good experience with in the past, or get a recommendation from someone you trust.
If you need temporary or replacement housing, be vigilant about online scams promising a rental only if you act immediately. Never agree to rent a home without seeing it first. Do not disclose bank information, credit card numbers, or other personal information over the phone or internet to hold or reserve anything you have not physically seen and verified.
Social media can be beneficial during a hurricane or natural disaster to keep up to date on news and know if loved ones are okay. It can also be a vehicle for fake charities soliciting donations with heart-felt messaging and imagery during natural disasters like Hurricane Ian when people need help. Remember that not everything on social media is true, including charity requests. Double-check any social media solicitations for charitable donations before you give. And be aware that crowd-funding websites do not always vet the people who post campaigns.
You’ve probably noticed the common theme in many scams that are out in full swing after a hurricane — scammers make up a lie and, unfortunately, an unsuspecting person believes it and provides information that the scammer then uses to steal money, information, or otherwise take advantage. Hurricane or not, there are a few habits to keep you, your data, and your financial assets safe in these situations.
If you suspect fraud, say something. Speaking up and reporting it helps others from being victims of this type of heartless ugliness. There are several ways to report fraud:
Unfortunately, some people take advantage during times of struggle. Whether you’ve been affected or are trying to help those who were, staying aware and vigilant is a good way to help ensure you aren’t taken advantage of. Take care of yourself and each other!