Dealing with any disaster is difficult enough, but when one strikes, don’t make yourself a further victim by falling for the scammers, identity thieves and con-men who make money off others’ misfortune.
Federal officials say millions of dollars are lost annually to crooks who prey on the vulnerability and trust of disaster survivors. More than 3.2 million fraud cases were reported to the Federal Trade Commission in 2019 alone. more than 650,000 of which were identity theft.
Officials say that scams have gotten so sophisticated in recent years, that’t its become increasingly difficult for many people to detect what’s fraud and what’s not.
Sometimes, home and business owners will be approached by individuals posing as official disaster workers or claiming to be skilled tradesmen when they are not. Be wary of both, say officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). If you’re unsure about the legitimacy of either, ask for identification and then make a quick call to the agency or organization where the person works to verify their employment.
Scammers often use other methods to bilk disaster survivors out of money and property. Whether it’s the looks-too-good offer on the internet, the phone calls requesting donations for disaster relief, the letter offering help with disaster relief loan applications or the emails and texts touting cut-rate prices on repairs, scammers have dozens of ways to separate you from your cash.
“Don’t be fooled,” says Louis Falzarano, founder and owner of Boston Board Up Emergency Service. You can protect yourself against most scams, Falzarano says, by dealing with companies that have been in business for years, like Boston Board Up.
Checking disaster repair companies through the Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List or other product-rating website is also important since it allows you to reach companies, like Boston Board Up, that have stellar ratings for professionalism and customer service.
The easiest way to keep scammers and con-men at bay is to never give out any personal or credit card information until you have checked out a business or organization and are sure they are legitimate, FEMA officials said. FEMA also suggested making a regular review of your credit card every month to check for fraudulent charges.