Scammers target victims in the wake of natural disasters

Experts warn vigilance with personal, private information
Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 1:57 PM EDT
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InvestigateTV - As hurricane season rolls along and winter weather is just over the horizon, experts cautioned consumers to be on high alert for scammers following natural disasters.

Zulfikar Ramzan is Chief Scientist at Aura, a company that provides consumers with intelligence security in the digital world. Ramzan said his team has seen an uptick in con artists phishing following tragic situations.

“The goal for them is to get you to part with your personal information,” Ramzan said. “In some cases, they may even offer services with a fee.”Ramzan warned of scammers posing as FEMA agents offering disaster recovery loans and said once private information is exposed, it opens many easy venues for theft and fraud.

According to FEMA, their inspectors will never ask for your social security number, never call you for financial info, and never charge a fee to inspect your property. FEMA reps always carry ID badges and there’s never a fee required to apply for or to receive federal disaster assistance.

The Better Business Bureau warns scams are also rampant at the state level.

Following the recent devastating Kentucky floods, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) issued a warning about con artists sending texts about replacement drivers licenses to residents who lost all of their important documents.

Consumers also submitted reports about “lookalike” websites offering help with everything from updating postal addresses to reviewing or replacing documents for an upfront fee.

Josh Planos of the BBB said that unfortunately these cons and “lookalike” sites happen often after natural disasters or storms. Planos said the first thing you should do when natural disasters strike is to contact your insurance company.

“There are legitimate options out there,” Planos said. “You just want to make sure that you’re not going with the first one that you see.”

Planos added that you should also do your research because every disaster is different and your coverages also differ.

Lastly, if you hire a contractor, Planos said under no circumstances should you sign over your insurance check to that contractor.

“This is a play by the scammers all of the time,” he said. “These are door to door salesmen who are just looking to make out with the insurance check that you received. You want to get an invoice from the contractor and pay them directly-preferably with a credit card, which has that built in fraud protection in case disputes arise or that the payment is under concern.”