Don’t fall victim to fraud after hurricanes
In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, two things are certain: 1) Texans and Floridians will rebuild and repair, and 2) scammers will be lurking — ready to take advantage of victims, their circumstances and the people lending a hand to help.
Preventing natural disaster relief scams is impossible. But informed citizens doing their research can avoid falling victim.
Here are some ways to stay protected from these fraudsters:
Use trusted, local contractors
Without a doubt, there will be scammers posing as contractors after a natural disaster. You want to make sure you do research to ensure you aren’t going to be taken advantage of.
Here are a few tips to follow:
• Don’t hire anyone who rushes or pressures you to sign a repair contract.
• Don’t pay in cash. A scammer can take the money and never be heard from again.
• Never hire a contractor on the spot. Read reviews and make sure they do quality work before making any deals.
• Confirm that the contractor’s business is legal, licensed and registered. Request to see a business license and proof of insurance.
• Pay in installments and wait for the repairs to be completed to make the last payment.
• Always get everything in writing. A legal contract is your safety net, should any issues arise.
Do a VIN check before buying a car
After Hurricane Katrina, fraudsters were fixing up cars damaged by the flooding and selling them as used cars — leaving their victims with a lemon of a car.
Conducting a vehicle inspection number check will tell you if the vehicle had previous repairs or damage.
Spot fake charities
Don’t let scammers take advantage of your generosity. Doing your own research is imperative before making any donations.
Conning charities and fraudulent fundraisers may do any of the following:
• Refuse to tell you the details; its mission, identity or how your donation will be used.
• Ask for cash donations.
• Ask you to wire money.
• Thank you for a donation you didn’t make.
• Try to get you to donate immediately, without giving you time to research.
• Use a similar name as an established charity.
• Refuse to give you proof that a donation is tax deductible.
• Offer to provide an overnight shipping service to collect a donation (another way they try to get you to pay immediately).
Before Hurricane Katrina even hit, scammers had registered dozens of websites with “Katrina” in the name to pose as charities.
These scams circulate quickly on social media due to their sophistication, so watch out. Once someone makes the mistake of falling for a scam, the fraudsters will lure the victim’s social media friends in, knowing that people are more likely to trust what their friend likes.
Here’s how to stay protected from online charity scams:
• Be careful of which websites you give your email to.
• Consider any organization that asks you to send money overseas to be a scam.
• Do not open email attachments! Real emails from real charity organizations will not typically include attachments. Opening an attachment from an unsolicited email may lead to a computer virus.
• Investigate the charity’s website. Legitimate charities’ web addresses typically end in .org — not .com. You can also rule out any website that asks for your personal information. These are scams.
• Be cautious of people claiming to be victims. If someone contacts you directly for help with something like a disaster or disease, they are likely to be scamming you.
• Do not donate immediately over the phone. Do your research.
You can also help those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma by sharing these tips with others. When more people are informed of these scams, more victims can get the help they need.
Justin Lavelle is chief communications officer at BeenVerified.com. BeenVerified offers a service to access public records and search for people. Find out ages, marital status, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, criminal records and more at www.beenverified.com.