When disaster strikes, so do the scams. It's the season of hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and more. If you live in an area that's prone to storms and flooding, or you volunteer to help the victims of natural disasters, beware of these four post-disaster scams so you're not taken for a ride.
1. Bogus charities
As soon as a major natural disaster hits, fake charities spring up like dandelions after a spring rain. You might get solicitations for donations via email, social media posts, text messages or phone calls. These appeals are usually accompanied by a tear-jerking story designed to play on your emotions and get you to loosen your purse strings. Unfortunately, these scams are often successful at swindling victims out of thousands of dollars.
Never take a request for monetary aid at face value. Check out the charity's authenticity at Charitynavigator.org and see what the Better Business Bureau has to say about them. If you find the charity does indeed exist and is a reliable organization, double-check that the website address (URL) is correct so you can be sure you're not handing over money to a copycat site. If you want to be absolutely certain that your donation is going to the right address, you can simply contact the charity or The Red Cross on your own.
2. FEMA imposters
The days following a natural disaster can be chaotic, as victims try to put their lives and their homes back together.
Devious scammers capitalize on this misfortune to impersonate FEMA representatives to collect victims' personal information and/or their money. They're counting on victims being too preoccupied to check their legitimacy.
If you applied for FEMA, stay one step ahead of the scammers by remaining alert and cautious. If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to represent the federal organization, only share your FEMA claim number over the phone, keeping all other personal details to yourself. If the caller is legitimate, they should already have any other information they need.
If a FEMA representative shows up at your home, ask to see a FEMA-issued photo ID badge. The "representative" may promise to speed up your claim if you pay a deposit, but this is completely false, as FEMA does not offer any such arrangement. Do not give the "FEMA rep" any of your money - or any of your personal information.
3. Shady repair contractors
Many so-called contractors will make the rounds of neighborhoods that have seen storm damage to offer their services to homeowners seeking repairs. They may ask for upfront payment for any work you need and then do a sloppy job or never complete their task. You won't realize you've been conned until the worker has left your home with your money in their pocket. To avoid getting caught in this scam, carefully research any contractor you'd like to use before hiring, and never agree to pay for all or most of the repairs before the work is done.
In a different variation of this scam, someone may show up at your door claiming to represent a utility company you use. They'll threaten to shut off your service if you don't provide immediate payment for any repairs you might need. Ask to see proof that they indeed represent the company they claim to work for and do not make any upfront payments until you have checked out their authenticity.
4. Damaged cars
It's not only homes that can be heavily damaged by storms; vehicles can get hit hard, too. Sometimes, a car that's been in a flood or hurricane can be fixed up so it looks fine on the outside despite a heavily damaged interior. Shady car salespeople might try to sell these vehicles to unsuspecting consumers who have no idea the car has been in such a storm.
If you're shopping for a car in an area that has recently been hit by a natural disaster, be sure to check out the car's history on sites like Carfax.com.
Don't let scammers make a natural disaster more difficult than it already is. If you suspect fraud, let the FTC know at FTC.gov.