Tips for avoiding scams after natural disasters strike

The time after a natural disaster strikes a community can be stressful for families, businesses and organizations. One thing that can make that time even more challenging is falling for notorious scammers who take advantage of the stressful situation.

Scammers and con men often target vulnerable communities, such as those with physical impairments and the elderly, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Most often, the scammers offer to speed up the insurance, disaster assistance or building-permit process for a fee.

Scams can be done by phone, mail, email or in person.

FEMA says be on the lookout for these common post-disaster scams:

Phony housing inspectors: If home damage is visible from the street, an owner/applicant may be especially vulnerable to fraudulent housing inspectors who claim to represent FEMA or the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Applicants should always:

  • Ask to see the inspector’s identification badge. A FEMA or SBA shirt or jacket is not proof of someone’s affiliation with the government. Federal employees and contractors carry official photo identification.
  • FEMA inspectors will already have applicants’ nine-digit registration number.
  • FEMA inspectors will never require banking or other personal information.
  • FEMA does not hire or endorse specific contractors to fix homes or recommend repairs nor do they determine your eligibility for assistance.
  • Fraudulent building contractors: Disasters also attract fraudulent contractors who offer to begin work immediately and request a cash advance payment.When hiring a contractor:
  • Residents should only use licensed local contractors who are backed by reliable references and get written estimates from at least three contractors that include the cost of labor and materials. They should also read the fine print.
  • Residents should make sure their contractors carry general liability insurance and workers’ compensation. If he or she is not insured, you may be liable for accidents that occur on your property.
  • Don’t pay more than half the costs of repairs upfront.

Bogus pleas for post-disaster donations: Dishonest solicitors may play on the emotions of disaster survivors. These solicitations may come by phone, email, letter or face-to-face.

  • Residents should verify legitimate solicitations by asking for the charity’s exact name, street address, phone number and website address, then phone the charity directly and confirm that the person asking for funds is an employee or volunteer.
  • Residents should not pay donations with cash.
  • Residents should request a receipt with the charity’s name, street address, and phone number.

Things to remember:

  • Individuals are encouraged to remain alert, ask questions and require identification when someone claims to be an official or representative of a government agency.
  • FEMA and SBA staffers will never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections or for assisting individuals to fill out applications. If in doubt, do not give out your personal information.

If you suspect fraud or suspicious activity call your local police department, Office of the Florida Attorney General at 866-9-NO-SCAM or the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.

If you have questions regarding insurance, insurance adjusters, or to report a fraudulent insurance adjuster or insurance scammer contact the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.