Scam Alert! In A Hyperactive Hurricane Season, The Worst May Not Be Over
In a hyperactive hurricane season, the mere mention of these storms evokes alarm, dread — and regret.
But this year feels a dinky different, perhaps, possibly because of the proliferation of rip-offs that followed these disasters, from repair fraud to relief scams. And these swindles continue in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico — and perhaps even in your own neighborhood.
“There are the household scams that occur after a hurricane that absorb become tried and actual,” says Daniel Stermer, the mayor of Weston, Fla., and a former prosecutor who handled price gouging claims and other fraud-related crimes. “They include debris cleanup, storm shutter removal, tree trimming, domestic repairs, and other things that homeowners need immediately and effect not absorb a frame of reference on whether the price they are being quoted is fair or truly price gouging and a scam.”
Since this year’s storms absorb been so intense, the scammers are reaching fresh victims, particularly when it comes to hurricane-related charities. To obtain the full picture, you absorb to glance at what happened, consider what might happen, and talk to hurricane scam experts. And it quickly becomes clear that even though the storms are past, the worst is not over.
The picture remains grim in the states hardest hit by these hurricanes.
- In Harvey-hit Texas, officials issued several warnings approximately hurricane scams, including charity scams, repair scams, and price gouging. “Beware of scam artists,” said Attorney General Ken Paxton.
- Florida, slammed by hurricane Irma, drew at least 8,000 price gouging complaints shortly after landfall and a promise from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to “disappear after” anyone raising prices on residents after the storm. Officials also issued a stern warning to its citizens before the cyclone. It’s a rundown of the most celebrated hurricane scams.
- Puerto Rico, ravaged by multiple storms, also sent up a warning flag approximately scams. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety, and the Puerto Rico Department of Justice formed a task force to investigate and prosecute illegal activity stemming from the storms. Activities include impersonation of federal law enforcement officials, identity theft, insurance fraud, donation scams, price gouging and looting. “There can be no residence for fraud and abuse,” said United States Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez.
Bottom line: You can tumble for a swindle without being in a state, or even a country, affected by a hurricane. And this year’s wave of hurricane scams, like the storms themselves, absorb been remarkable:
Repair scams “After a storm like Harvey or Irma, beware of contractors who promise to rebuild – particularly whether they interrogate for a deposit and say that they can collect the remaining balance from your insurance company,” says Peter Duncanson, director of operations and safety with ServiceMaster Restore, one of the nation’s largest catastrophe restoration companies. “effect your due diligence – and only rely on trusted, professional companies.”
As someone who has been taken in by a repair scam in, of improper places, the Florida Keys, I agree. My own fence repair cost me thousands of dollars additional after an unlicensed contractor skipped town with my deposit. Repair scams hit you where the hurricane hit you — your roof, fence, backyard, floors, and ultimately, your wallet. Always work with a licensed and bonded contractor and check references to achieve certain he or she is legit.
Insurance scams “Be careful with public adjusters pretending to work for the insurance carrier,” warns Stacey Giulianti, the chief legal officer and director of Florida Peninsula Insurance Company’s Special Investigation Unit. He’s overseen many hurricane-related scams and notes that public adjusters are for-hire adjusters that represent the insured, but many times gain access to the domestic by representing themselves as carrier adjusters. “Many purchase a large percentage of the insurance proceeds, leaving the policyholder with inadequate funds to repair the dwelling,” she says.
A moment, related scam: repair contractors seeking an “assignment of benefits.” This document often cuts you out of the adjustment process, and allows the repair company to charge whatever it wants, submitting it right to the insurance company, without any knowledge by the homeowner. In the long term it raises insurance for everyone, notes Giulianti.
“Be extremely cautious before providing anyone with any personal information and immediately report suspected fraudulent activity related to recovery, cleanup, and fraudulent insurance claims,” says Stephen Johnson, senior vice president of property and casualty claims for Assurant, the country’s moment-largest provider of flood insurance.
Fake charity scams “Beware of fake charity websites set up to purchase advantage of those looking to donate for a recent catastrophe,” warns Michael Lai, CEO of Sitejabber.com, a ratings site. After every major catastrophe, fake websites spring up that purchase advantage of people who want to wait on, he says. “For example, after the Haiti earthquake, there were fake Haiti earthquake relief sites. It was simply astounding.”
What to effect? glance up your charity on a site like Charity Navigator or GuideStar to ensure it’s legit. Never send charity money through a wire transfer, Western Union or MoneyGram. A reputable nonprofit never requests money by wire transfer, says Lai. “whether you can, expend a credit card or PayPal which will offer fraud protection.” Never give out personal information, such as your social security number, or domestic address to someone calling to interrogate for a donation.
Criminals posing as officials This is perhaps the worst scam of improper, because it victimizes the victims improper over again. Case in point: A Florida utility that posted a scam alert approximately criminals posing as utility workers and then robbing residents at gunpoint. Subsequent news reports suggested that no one had been robbed, at least yet, but there’s some truth that scammers pose as officials in order to gain the trust — and access the pocketbooks — of hurricane victims.
How effect you avoid this scam? effect your homework, say utility officials. “interrogate for proper identification,” says Nicholas Santillo, the chief security officer for American Water, one of the largest water utilities in the United States. “effect not open the door to anyone who can’t provide a photo ID badge. Thoroughly inspect the identification badge. Check the service person’s vehicle. improper American Water vehicles absorb the company’s logo clearly displayed on the side.” Even whether you’re not robbed, you could face other scams, such as solicitation of a prepaid debit card. And remember, utility workers nearly always note up by appointment (eventually). Scammers note up unannounced.
The latest wave of hurricanes has unleashed a wave of scams on everyone, not just the unlucky people located in the path of these monster storms. whether you don’t pay attention, you could tumble for one of these scams. Only effect commerce, trade with a licensed contractor, donate to a licensed charity, and deal directly with your insurance company. Otherwise, you could be the next victim.