We urge our members to stay vigilant of scams and fraud every day. But you need to stay especially wary after a Hurricane. Natural disasters and severe weather can create opportunities for fraud in their wake, occurring at a time when people may be especially vulnerable, or targeting charitable intentions.
According to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF), disaster-related scams reported to their agency and other law enforcement include:
- Impersonation of federal law enforcement
- Identity theft
- Fraudulent claims made to insurance companies or the federal government
- Bogus solicitations for charitable donations
- Fraudulent investment opportunities
- Price gouging
- Contractor fraud
Scammers use phone, text, mail, email, and even go door to door to target residents of affected areas following hurricanes and damaging storms.
- Fraudsters impersonate property inspectors or building contractors and go to people’s homes and tell them the home is unsafe to live in. They may go a step further and create damage to get work.
- Unlicensed contractors or scammers may demand payment upfront for home repairs but not do or complete the work.
- Scammers create fake charities with similar names to trusted organizations to trick individuals into donating funds to them.
- Fraudsters register for aid through FEMA using stolen identities.
- Scammers may launch robocalls with promises of government grants, flood insurance, or help with assistance applications.
Here are some common scams to watch out for with some helpful tips:
Scammers pose as charitable organizations to help victims of natural disasters, such as hurricanes. Red flags that you are dealing with a fake charity include:
- Requests for donations to be sent over a wire transfer
- Requests for cash donations sent through the mail
- An aggressive push for a donation
- Calls from an organization you have never heard of before or one that has a close name to a well-known organization
- Reluctance to give a call-back number
- Starts the call with a “Thank you” for a pledge you don’t remember making
- Requests for personal information
- Guarantees winnings from a sweepstakes or drawing in exchange for a donation
If you’re planning on giving to post-disaster relief efforts, take the following precautions:
- Donate to charities you know and trust.
- Designate the disaster to ensure your funds go toward disaster relief.
- Never click on links or open attachments in unsolicited emails.
- Don’t assume that charity messages posted on social media are legitimate. Research the organization.
- Verify the legitimacy of any email solicitation by contacting the organization directly through a trusted contact number.
- Avoid cash donations if possible. Pay by 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 charity websites end in .org rather than .com.
- Make contributions directly, rather than relying on others to contribute on your behalf.
Home Repair Scams
Following hurricanes or damaging storms, people impersonate home repair businesses and roofing companies and will visit affected neighborhoods and offer to repair the damage. Red flags you’re dealing with a scammer and not a legitimate business include:
- One-day only discounts
- Aggressive sales pitches
- Requirement of upfront payment
- You’ve never heard of the company and/or it does not have a local, physical address
- They cannot produce a business license or written information about the company
Impersonation of Government or Insurance Company Representative
Con artists pose as government officials from agencies such as FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) the Department of Homeland Security and/or the Department of Health and Human Services, that are responsible for helping disaster victims. These scammers will ask you to share your identification, social security information, and other personal information that can be used to steal your identity.
Known Scams from the American Red Cross
- A scam call from a “Federal agency” offering you a $9K grant (and if you try to call back the number that appears on your caller ID, you get the Red Cross switchboard)
- Advertisement about a Red Cross doctor who needs to relocate out of the country quickly and is trying to sell or rent his/her house.
- A phone call, text message, or email stating that a family member is volunteering with the Red Cross in Haiti and has been arrested.
- An email that comes from “redcross.net”
Here are a few ways you can report disaster fraud immediately.
Contact the FEMA Fraud Investigations and Inspections Division
FEMA Fraud Investigations and Inspections Division
400 C Street SW
Mail Stop 3005
Washington D.C., 20472-3005
Other Ways to Report Fraud
You can also report fraud to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, or the Department of Justice (DOJ) Fraud Hotline.
U.S. Department of Justice, National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF)
National Center for Disaster Fraud
Baton Rouge, LA 70821-4909