Disasters can bring out the best in people, as neighbors and strangers alike roll up their sleeves and open their wallets to help those picking up the pieces. They also bring out the worst in scammers, for whom others’ misfortune is just a chance to make a fast buck. Since it was founded in 2005, the U.S. Justice Department’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) has fielded more than 95,000 complaints involving more than 100 events, including hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornadoes, earthquakes, explosions and chemical spills.
Disaster frauds often prey directly on those struggling to recover from extreme weather. Dubious contractors descend on affected communities, offering quick, cheap fixes for battered homes and businesses or rapid removal of debris, for payment up front. Some of these “storm chasers” are merely shady and overcharge for shoddy work. (And since they lack local licensing, your homeowner’s insurance might not cover it.) Others are outright scammers who take your money and run. There’s more on avoiding home repair scams elsewhere in AARP’s Fraud Resource Center.
In another “post-disaster” con, fraudsters claiming to work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or other government bodies contact victims with promises of grants, building permits or help speeding up insurance claims, if you pay a deposit or fee. A genuine FEMA inspector will not ask for money or personal information. Scammers may also pose as public insurance adjusters, charging high fees for doubtful damage assessments or directing you to disreputable contractors with whom they’re in league.