Don't Get Taken In: Avoiding Home Repair and Charity Scams After Disasters
Scammers and fraudsters are always active after a disaster hits
A disaster has been declared in Louisiana after a torrential storm flooded the southern part of the state, leaving more than 20,000 people in need of rescue.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) has predicted that tropical storms and hurricanes will become more intense on average by the end of the 21st century, with rainfall rates projected to increase by 10 to 15 percent. In light of this, it is important that consumers be aware of how to avoid being taken advantage of by scammers and con artists operating in the days and weeks after a disaster has hit.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has issued a guide filled with tips applicable to consumers everywhere, not just in Louisiana. Included among those tips is information on avoiding repair scams, such as obtaining bids from multiple contractors, checking to ensure that the contractor is licensed and has insurance, getting all contracts and guarantees in writing and keeping them instead of throwing them away, and always paying by check or money order, never in cash.
For those who are displaced and looking for somewhere to live, Landry advises visiting the physical location of the property under consideration and a face-to-face transaction with a written rental agreement. When it comes to payment, consumers should never wire money or give out their banking or credit card information over either the phone or the internet.
Cars that were either submerged or standing in more than one foot of water for longer than one hour should be checked out by a dealer or repair shop due to the potential for hidden damage, says Landry. Consumers who are interested in purchasing such a vehicle used should inspect it carefully, checking hidden parts and crevices for mud and silt, which indicate that the car may have water damage.
Anyone who believes they may have been the victim of a scammer or fraudster to contact the North Carolina Attorney General's Office in their state.
In addition, it is an unfortunate reality that it is not only individuals who try to pull scams, but organizations as well. There are a number of actions consumers can take to avoid being taken advantage of by fraudulent charities, says Consumerist.
First, when being solicited for a donation, consumers should ask for information about the charity. They should ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who the caller is working for, and the percentages of the donation that will go to the charity and to the fundraiser. They should also contact the charity and find out if it knows about the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name, and they should request written information about the charity, including its full name, address, and phone number.
There are a number of ways to verify charity information. Consumers should contact the office in charge of regulating charitable organizations and solicitations for their state to verify an organization's claims regarding how much of their donation goes to the charity and how much is directed toward other expenses. They can also check GuideStar and the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance to verify information.
In addition, consumers should always verify their records if they do not remember pledging to make a donation. If they have no record of the pledge and cannot remember making it, they should resist pressure from the charity to donate.
Also, any charities that seems to have arisen overnight should also be avoided. This is particularly common just after a disaster occurs. Newly-formed charities often do not yet have the staff and systems in place to get consumers' donations to the locations or people in need of them.
Furthermore, many fraudulent charities will try to ride on the coattails of more established, legitimate organizations by choosing very similar names. Consumers should check with the established charity to verify that it is the correct one before donating.
Finally, it is best to use credit cards when making a donation. This method is preferable for tax and security reasons because cash can be stolen or lost. When making an online donation or payment, consumers should look for indicators that the charity's site is secure, such as a URL beginning with "https" (the "s" stands for "secure") or an icon that looks like a lock on the status bar of the browser.