In Case of Emergency, Beware of Fraud
Extreme weather conditions have overwhelmed the nation – between Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Jose; wildfires spurring from a California heat wave; and two major earthquakes in Mexico, there are a lot of residents who have lost their families, homes, and livelihoods. And in times of need, it’s heartening to see so many people step up to help, whether that be through volunteering or donating. However, there is another nasty side effect that happens during times of disaster recovery: fraud.
As we noted before – fraud knows no bounds (including common decency), with criminals taking advantage of victims and those who want to help them. One such way is through the creation of fake charities. Emails that solicit donations for disaster victims or less-than-legit looking charity websites are just a couple of the ways fraudsters capitalize on disaster to get a quick payoff. Make sure to research organizations thoroughly, by verifying through legitimate watchdogs such as Charity Navigator or go directly to reputable organizations to make a donation.
Another big problem is impersonation. After a disaster hits, fraudsters assume the identities of victims, using their Social Security numbers to file property and loss claims to insurance companies and pocketing the insurance money before the real victim can. Through a combination of information culled from the Dark Web and through traditional online searches, criminals can also pretend to offer professional services such as house contractors, insurance agents, or repair services, and steal money from victims without any intention to survey or fix the damages they were hired to do.
Robocalls, which are nothing new, are also being implemented with a disaster-twist. Scammers are impersonating flood insurance agents in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, scaring victims with a threatening phone call that their flood insurance payments are overdue and must be paid immediately to guarantee coverage.
Criminals will always try to capitalize on the vulnerability of victims of following big disasters, as well as the generosity of others to step up to help in the aftermath. Pay close attention to the organizations you donate to and the contractors you hire. Anything that seems suspicious – slightly-off charity names, phone calls or emails soliciting money – most likely is fraud.