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7 Tips to Avoid Fraud After Natural Disasters

From hurricanes to wildfires, whenever disaster strikes scammers soon follow

 James Sonya surveys what is left of his uncles barber shop after Hurricane Laura passed through the area on August 27, 2020 in Lake Charles, Louisiana . The hurricane hit with powerful winds causing extensive damage to the city. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Man surveys damage in Lake Charles, Louisiana after Hurricane Laura.

En español | Destructive hurricanes. Deadly wildfires. Extreme heat. Already weathering a pandemic, many Americans are now facing the added blows of natural disasters. Californians are battling blazes across the northern part of the state as the temperature hit a record 130 degrees in Death Valley, and Hurricane Laura has left a trail of destruction in Louisiana and Texas after making landfall Thursday with winds of 150 mph.

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Since criminals chase headlines, scammers are expected to come out in droves in the wake of recent calamities. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a consumer-protection agency, has seven tips for protecting your money and identity from fraud after a natural disaster.

  1. Be skeptical of anyone promising immediate clean-up and debris removal. 
    • Some may quote outrageous prices, demand an upfront payment or lack the skills needed.
  2. Check them out. 
    • Before you pay, ask for identification, licenses and proof of insurance. Don't believe promises that aren't in writing.
  3. Never pay by wire transfer, gift card or cash. 
    • And never make a final payment until the work is done and you're satisfied.
  4. Guard your personal information. 
  5. Remember: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does not charge application fees to apply for funds. 
    • If someone wants money to help you qualify for FEMA relief, it's probably a scam.
  6. Be wise to rental listing scams. 
    • Steer clear of people who tell you to wire money or ask for a security deposit or rent before you've even met or signed a lease.
  7. Spot disaster-related charity scams. 
    • Scammers often will try to make a quick profit from the misfortune of others. Here's more on donating wisely and avoiding bogus charities.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.

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