In the midst of natural disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, there are inspiring stories of rescue and generosity. Invariably though, those heartwarming tales are followed by some unfortunate stories of scams and fraud. All too often, storm survivors are revictimized by those looking to capitalize on the loss of others.
The problem became so bad after Hurricane Katrina that the U.S. Justice Department created the National Center for Disaster Fraud. The Center receives hundreds of calls every month, even when there isn’t a major disaster.
Calls have already started coming in to the Center from Houston. So far, there have been more than 3,200 complaints about scams, frauds and price gouging in Texas since August 25th. The number of fraud reports went from 79 to 425 in the week following Hurricane Harvey. No doubt a similar pattern will emerge following Hurricane Irma.
Here are four major types of scams you should avoid:
Disasters regularly attract scammers who create fake crowdfunding charity campaigns. After Hurricane Katrina, investigators found 5,000 questionable websites that were set up to collect donations. To combat this, GoFundMe has created a centralized page for Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma charity relief.
There are fake numbers for agencies that will provide assistance being shared on social media, through robocalls and emails. For example, people on Twitter have been sharing a fake number for the National Guard. The number actually connects people to an insurance scam. FEMA has reported that scammers are using robocalls to tell people their flood insurance premiums were past due and where to send the money.
After hurricanes and natural disasters, individuals pose as repair professionals to scam people out of their money. To avoid this, verify who you are taking to, call their organization and make sure they are who they claim, and check the Better Business Bureau and other online sources to determine their viability. And llimit any type of upfront deposit, and do not pay in full until the work is done to your satisfaction.
Hackers use natural disasters to scam people out of confidential information by clicking on malicious links, or using phishing emails to steal confidential information. Sometimes these emails look very legitimate and many offer hurricane assistance as a hook. Hurricane Irma victims should be cautious and diligent when it comes to emails. If you don’t know the sender, or the offer sounds a little too good, don’t click on the link or attachment!
If you suspect fraud connected to the storm, call the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721 or email the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Center is a national clearinghouse that will refer cases to the proper law enforcement agency anywhere in the country. Reports are confidential and can be made anonymously.
Lanier Upshaw, wants to make sure you and your loved ones are protected from scams following Hurricane Irma. Check out our Hurricane Irma News and Info Page for hurricane updates and assistance.