Scam of the Month: Hurricane Relief Could Rob You Blind
Each month, IDShield's blog features the most prevalent scam of the past few weeks, giving you insights into how scams begin and the ways to detect them.
It's hurricane season, folks. Time to batten down your finances if a storm targets your state. As with tornadoes, wildfires and blizzards, hurricanes trigger a wave of scammer opportunities. Some are easily detected, but a call from FEMA offering disaster aid is harder to ignore. Here's what you need to know to weather-proof your wallet and your home.
Historically, this scam of the month really runs for many months every fall. Hurricane season is predictable, providing time to prepare for big winds and waves, but data thieves know this. Scammers also polish their pitches in advance and can rapidly move from state to state as opportunities present themselves.
Know the Basics
"First, know that officials with government disaster assistance agencies do not call or text asking for financial account information and that there is no fee required to apply for or get disaster assistance from FEMA or the Small Business Administration," the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) advises.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) gets swamped as each hurricane makes shore, and they will NOT call you. Neither will your insurance company.
Don't get fooled by nomadic contractors going door to door. Hundreds of traveling con artists can descend on a ravaged coastal area overnight, but not all will 1) do the work or 2) have the necessary licenses and permits. They could also be unaware of area building codes so ask to see proof of insurance, identification, licensing and other details before hiring anyone.
A contract in writing is a must, whether it's for downed tree removal, new window glass or other basics.
Resist the big discount/big deposit scam. Repair and cleanup teams that request cash deposits or checks won't be back once they have your money.
No one wants to live in a home with no roof, so the temptation to act quickly is powerful, but it carries a boatload of risk. If you live in a coastal state like Florida, the consumer protection division can provide insights on how to spot the scammers and the latest rip-offs in circulation.
After tropical storm Henri swamped New England recently, numerous government agencies warned of the risks that could crop up in the wake of Henri. Connecticut consumer protection efforts blanketed the area after Henri came ashore, but by then, it was too late to do an optimal job of preparation.
The ideal time to react to these annual weather events is to put a plan in place before one hits.
Yes, you will need details of your home or renter's insurance. A copy of the policy is ideal, and you can make the docs waterproof in several ways. A new Ziploc bag will protect important papers, but you can also photograph them on a smartphone or scan your details to a flash drive. You don’t want a copy that can float down the street.
Other vital data like birth certificates or Social Security cards need guarding. If you're taking paper copies, collect all you'll need for a "go bag" that includes chargers for electronics and extra batteries.
If you need legal help, contact your local bar association. During significant events, members in states like Florida often provide free advice to residents.
Scams that follow a hurricane's path don't stop at home repairs or cutting downed branches. Fake jobs will get posted. Fake charities will pitch you to help the victims. And then there are used car scams where flooded cars are shipped out of state to hide the damages.
If you're in the market for a used vehicle, check its history online using the VIN to track the car's past locations. Vet any charity that asks for funds through the Better Business Bureau or Charity Navigator.
The FCC offers some great advice on communications during and after a disaster. But, again, set up a clear communication plan before adversity strikes. Once done, you're covered for the entire season—June to November. Also, download the FEMA app to smartphones for up-to-the-minute news.
IDShield knows that calamities like hurricanes can scatter your personally identifiable information (PII) far from home. Lock down critical files so high winds cannot spread them far and wide. Consider a heavy fire safe or a weighted box for these.
Our licensed experts can consult with you regarding document protection. We also track this kind of data 24/7 to warn members when their key details have been breached. We can alert you to a data leak no matter how your information gets exposed, and help you shut down any identity theft or misuse that has occurred.
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