Out of every national disaster come courageous stories of heroism and rescue. Unfortunately, the same can be said about scams and crime.
In Houston, post Hurricane Harvey, scammers impersonating Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) agents arrived in boats to “rescue” people from their flooded homes, only to send a crew in after to liquidate their valuables. After the Las Vegas shooting, false charities took online donations in “support” of local law enforcement and the families of those that died in the shooting. During recovery from the California wildfires, scammers took money for home and neighborhood clean-up services they never provided.
Pulling on the heartstrings of outsiders anxious to help, and the heightened emotional state of victims on the inside, these scams are surprisingly successful. So much so that after taking on more than a thousand disaster fraud cases in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the federal government established the National Center for Disaster Fraud to assist post-disaster fraud victims across the country. In addition, the Government of Canada has set up the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center.
Almost even more distressing is that insurance scams are commonplace post-disaster. In these scenarios, someone will claim to be a broker or local insurance agent calling to expedite your disaster-related claim, even before you’ve filed one. They may ask for your insurance information, Social Security number and mother’s maiden name over the phone or in person to verify. Don’t give out any personal information over the phone unless you originated the phone call, or the insurance agent can prove to you that they’re who they say they are.
5 Steps to Minimize Being Doubly Victimized
With so much potential for crime, the question becomes: What can you do to steer clear of these scams, or minimize their effect?
- Keep your guard up. Recognize that unfortunate events like natural disasters create a target-rich environment for criminals, fraudsters and scammers to exploit the event. Maintain a healthy dose of skepticism. Incorporate the due diligence and common sense you usually would into in-person and online communications.
- Don’t rush into decisions. Unless your house is on fire, there’s no need to make an on-the-spot decision. If it’s a legit organization, they won’t care if you need even a couple of days to think about it. Scammers will pressure you to decide on the spot, siting various reasons they won’t be able to offer the same opportunity even an hour later. Saying, “Let me run this past my attorney,” will usually stop them in their tracks.
- Don’t divulge personal information. Your personal information can be exploited, stolen and used for other nefarious purposes, including financial gain of the scammer. Don’t sign a written document until you’ve thoroughly vetted it.
- Know who to contact. Report post-disaster scams to the National Center for Disaster Fraud and the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (if online related) in the U.S., and the Anti-Fraud Center in Canada.
- Consider crime coverage. Post-disaster scams that occur online (including social engineering) aren’t typically covered by cyber coverage or a basic homeowners or liability policy. Instead, you may need a crime policy.
Technology provides a new avenue for scams
The truth is that none of these scenarios are new – only the delivery method has changed. With modern technology, scammers have even more opportunities and avenues with which to carry out their crimes. The internet, email, text and more have made mass communication more accessible and easy to use.
Contact your HUB broker to determine if you have the right personal or business insurance in place to protect you or your entity, especially should you be the victim of a disaster fraud scam or crime.