Excerpt from the Federal Trade Commission article "Scammers Target Disaster Victims. Spot Their Traps"
Immediately following weather-related disasters — like the devastating fires in California and the deadly flooding in Kentucky and surrounding states — scammers come out of the woodwork. As usual, they’re after your money and personal information. But in the aftermath of a disaster, people trying to get back on their feet become prime targets.
Whether you qualify for government assistance to rebuild, you’re looking for a company to remove debris, or you’re simply trying to send a donation to those who’ve lost the most, here are some ways to help you spot disaster recovery scams.
- Be skeptical of anyone promising immediate clean-up and repairs. Some may quote outrageous prices, demand payment up front, or lack the skills needed.
- Check them out. Before you pay, ask for IDs, licenses, and proof of insurance. Don’t believe any promises that aren’t in writing.
- Never pay by wire transfer, gift card, cryptocurrency, or in cash. Scammers ask for these types of payments because, once they’ve collected the money, it’s almost impossible for you to get it back.And never make the final payment until the work is done and you’re satisfied.
- Guard your personal information. Only scammers will say they’re a government official and then demand money or your credit card, bank account, or Social Security number.
- Know that FEMA doesn’t charge application fees. If someone wants money to help you qualify for FEMA funds, that’s probably a scam.
- Look out for rental listing scams. Steer clear of people who tell you to wire money or ask for security deposits or rent before you’ve met or signed a lease.
- Spot disaster-related charity scams. Scammers will often try to make a quick profit from the misfortune of others. Check out the FTC’s advice on donating wisely and avoiding charity scams.
Suspect a scam? Report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.