Over the last few days, the nation has been glued to the news about Hurricane Sandy and “Frankenstorm” on the East Coast. And while your attention is diverted to the latest storm coverage, scam artists are thinking of ways to take your money or steal your identity.
In the aftermath of the storm, the buzzards start circling looking for opportunities to scam disaster victims and the generosity of storm relief donations. After Hurricane Irene hit the East Coast last year, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation released tips to avoid scams that are applicable in any natural disaster.
Supporting storm relief
From the start, when looking at storm news, be wary of news coverage and photos you view on the web. The FBI warns that e-mails with links to news stories and photo attachments often contain viruses that can leach your personal information and computer keystrokes, which expose you to identity theft. Also avoid following links or making donations from social networks.
Always verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations through web resources such as the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. The FBI points out that most legitimate charities have websites ending in ”.org” rather than “.com.”
The FTC recommends only giving your credit card or bank information to charities you know and trust. The FBI warns consumers to never give cash donations and to look for scam red flags such as high pressure donation tactics and requests for donations by money transfer.
Advice for storm victims
Once the storm clears and the water recedes, East Coast residents will be clamoring to rebuild their lives. Consumers should be on guard for traveling fraudsters who overcharge for repairs, phony inspectors, and attorneys who promise to get you the maximum insurance payment.
The FTC advises storm victims to stay local, and to only use established contractors and services well known in your community – even if you have to get on a waiting list. Double check a contractor’s references and ask for copies of their general liability and worker’s compensation insurance.
The FBI says that other disaster scammers include “form completion services” that pose as a liaison between you and FEMA, advance fee loan companies, and water safety testing companies.
Consumers should report any suspected disaster scammers or fake charities or websites to the FBI National Center for Disaster Fraud at, (866)-720-5721 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.