Finance Globe

U.S. financial and economic topics from several finance writers.
4 minutes reading time (798 words)

Avoid Falling Victim to Post-Disaster Scams

Hurricane Sandy slammed the Northeast on Tuesday and left devastation in its wake. Dozens of human lives were lost, millions more have been affected by flooding and power loss, and property has suffered billions of dollars in damage.

But the losses don’t end there. After any major disaster, the climate is perfect for the lowest of the low to come out and prey on unsuspecting victims - fraudulent creeps who come up with a number of post-disaster scams.

These crooks see hard times as a perfect opportunity to make a buck at the expense of others. Whether you have been personally affected by the storm or are hoping to help those who have been, be on the lookout for frauds and avoid being taken advantage of.

The FBI advises before making a donation of any kind, consumers should adhere to certain guidelines, including the following:
  • Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages, because they may contain computer viruses.
  • Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as surviving victims or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.
  • Beware of organizations with copycat names similar to but not exactly the same as those of reputable charities.
  • Rather than following a purported link to a website, verify the existence and legitimacy of non-profit organizations by utilizing various internet-based resources.
  • Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files, because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
  • To ensure that contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make donations directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf.
  • Do not be pressured into making contributions; reputable charities do not use coercive tactics.
  • Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
  • Avoid cash donations if possible. Pay by debit or credit card, or write a check directly to the charity. Do not make checks payable to individuals.
  • Legitimate charities do not normally solicit donations via money transfer services.
  • Most legitimate charities maintain websites ending in .org rather than .com.

People who are dealing with property loss or damage also need to be aware that these ruthless crooks have no qualms about kicking you when you’re down. While any decent human being would want to help you through your difficulties, these jerks see your loss as another way to cash in.

The Better Business Bureau advises consumers that the most common post-disaster scams center around auto and home repairs or yard clean-up. To avoid falling prey to a scam:
  • Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts, including those for food, temporary lodging, or other expenses that may be covered under your policy.
  • Stay calm, keep control of your emotions, and avoid making hasty decisions. Be pro-active in selecting a company and not reactive to sales solicitations. Make temporary repairs if necessary.
  • Shop around. For major repairs, take time to get at least 3-4 estimates based on the same specifications and materials. Check references, verify licensing and registration, and read BBB Business Reviews
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have left-over materials from a nearby job or who do not have a permanent place of business. If sales people go door-to-door, check to see if your community requires them to have solicitation permits. Be leery if a worker shows up on your doorstep to announce that your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage in your home, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it.
  • Get a written contract with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials, and also any promises, including warranties on materials or labor. Be sure their name, address, license number (if applicable) and phone number are included in the contract, along with a start and end date for the work. Once you have found a contractor, request proof of a current insurance certificate covering workman’s compensation, property damage and personal liability.
  • Never pay in full in advance, and do not pay cash! While many companies may ask for a deposit, BBB suggests that no more than one-third of the job be paid upfront. Be sure the contract specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor. Before making the final payment, ask the contractor to show proof that all subcontractors have been paid (if not, you could be liable).

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Sunday, 05 February 2023

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