Wherever disaster strikes there will be fraudsters eager to take advantage of the situation. Hurricane Florence will be no exception.
On Friday, September 14th 2018, North Carolina was devastated by Hurricane Florence. For nearly two weeks, news outlets tracked the tropical cyclone. This provided time for many residents living in its trajectory to follow emergency plans. Despite this, many people were trapped or lost their lives during the disaster. Currently, at least 37 people have lost their lives in the storm. But human casualties aren’t the only losses. Many animals also perished including pets and livestock. Over three million chickens and more than five thousand hogs died. Tens of thousands of people are now displaced in a region with minimal housing options. It is expected that as much as $13 billion in damages will result from the storm.
Needless to say, relief aid is necessary and many generous folks will be quick to help. Hurricane Florence donation lines are being publicized. High profile celebrities have begun to chip in as well. Michael Jordan has even already donated $2 million dollars to relief efforts. But be advised that major disasters are prime times for charity scams.
Last month, several crooks were sentenced for defrauding London’s Grenfell Tower fire. Fraudsters benefited from free housing, wardrobe, food, and travel allowances. Some of this charity was even used to fund lavish international trips. Wyclef Jean’s charity, Yele Haiti, also infamously defrauded victims of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The “charity” is now no longer in operation.
Fraud alerts have already begun to pour in for Hurricane Florence. Here are the top 4 frauds that people should be watching out for:
Home repair scams:
According to FEMA, “The most common post-disaster fraud practices include phony housing inspectors, fraudulent building contractors and charging for free services.” Property Casualty Insurers Association of America advises homeowners to be wary of unsolicited repairmen. Contractors who try to get you to rush in committing to home repairs are a red flag. Home repair scams also seem to be a target for senior fraud as well. The AARP reported over three thousand complaints after the Hurricane Harvey disaster last year, alone.
The Internal Revenue Service has already issued an alert for taxpayers. It says to watch out for various scams related to the Hurricane. “Fraudulent schemes normally start with unsolicited contact by telephone, social media, e-mail or in-person using a variety of tactics,” the agency warns. The IRS says that fake charities and IRS impostors are common schemes to look out for. Individuals should never give cash or sensitive financial information. The IRS has a “Tax Exempt Organization Search” which helps to verify organizations with tax exemption donation status. This can help people check organizations for authenticity. People are encouraged to report IRS phishing attempts as well.
Crowdsourcing platforms such as GoFundMe have grown in popularity. People wishing to contribute directly to victims may seek out these options. Fraudsters know this. While GoFundMe says that phony funding campaigns constitute “less than one-tenth of one percent of all campaigns” it is still something that exists. Freelance reporter, Adrienne Gonzalez has created a website called GoFraudMe.com. Her site is dedicated to exposing scams on the funding platform. Be wary of any random solicitations. The only way you can have the most assurance is if you or someone you know is acquainted with the victim.
Sadly, disasters can mean dollars for investors. And there will be fraudsters looking to capitalize off those also looking to capitalize. According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) investors should be cautious of “stocks associated with clean-up, rebuilding and breakthroughs in science and technology that purport to address current and future flood-related issues.” They urge potential investors to do some investigation before making a commitment. Checking a company’s SEC rating is one step at verifying a valid investment opportunity.
Hurricanes are emergencies and with emergencies, people have been primed to act fast. But perhaps the best thing that anyone can do to prevent fraud is to avoid rushing. Take your time to do your due diligence before giving your money.