As pockets of thunderstorms, hail, and the threat of tornadoes dance across the U.S., so are scammers, trying to cash in on every power outage, mangled roof, and damaged house they can find. Oh, and even better, a consumer they can exploit to go along with it.
In Colorado, for example, scammers are offering tornado victims who might need repairs or clean-up one-day discounts, pretending like they’re from some real – but unknown – company, like a contractor, one without a physical business address or a business license.
In a recent Oklahoma scam spree, fraudsters were pretending to be from FEMA, going straight for a victim’s financial jugular – their personal banking information as part of a form they could fill out to get disaster relief. Scammers will also don the hat of insurance agents and utility company representatives, too.
The telltale signs
The threads that run true through all of these disaster-related scams are impersonation and pressure to use electronic payment or gift cards, both of which are difficult to trace or recover.
With both in full swing, Kent Welch, the chief data officer at First Orion, a communications technology provider, has some scam protection tips that he’s willing to talk through, including:
Don’t answer unknown numbers. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message.
Do your research. Before allowing someone to do a job, ask for their license and ensure they are registered with the state.
Call your utility company before making any sort of payment.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) adds these tips:
Don’t pay to apply for FEMA assistance. If they say you need to pay to qualify for FEMA funds, it’s a scam. The best place to get information from FEMA is from FEMA.gov or by downloading the FEMA Mobile App to get alerts and information.
Walk away if someone demands cash payments up front, or refuses to give you a contract in writing.
Steer clear of rental listing scams. Scammers know people need a place to live while they rebuild. They’ll advertise rentals that don’t exist to get your money and run. Never wire or give money for a deposit or rent before you’ve met or signed a lease.