As many parts of the South start rebuilding after the devastating effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, there’s a new peril to beware: scams.

“People should be aware that scams often follow news events,” Federal Trade Commission spokesman Frank Dorman told Consumer Reports. 

Dorman says that opportunists looking for ways to cash in on the misfortune of others are particularly common after natural disasters, when consumers are hit with pleas to donate to fake charities. People whose property has been damaged are further victimized by debris cleanup and home repair scams, he says.

Here are some hurricane scams that consumers are now facing and advice about how to protect yourself.

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Robocall Scams
The Federal Trade Commission warned this week of a robocall scam in which people are being told that their flood insurance premiums are past due and that in order to have coverage for Hurricane Harvey they need to submit a payment immediately.

“We advise people to be wary of offers that suddenly pop up for helping storm victims or helping you recover from a storm. Never give money, or your personal information, to someone unless you know who they are and you trust them,” Dorman says.

Instead, the agency recommends that you contact your insurance agent.

If your agent can’t help you, the FTC says you should contact your insurance company directly. If you have a policy with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP Direct), call 800-638-6620.

Impersonator Scams
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) says it has received reports of individuals impersonating Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents knocking on doors and telling residents to evacuate, purportedly so that they could rob the empty homes.

“Real HSI officials wear badges that are labeled ‘special agent,’ which members of the public can ask to see and verify,” the agency says. “ICE officers with Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) also wear badges labeled ‘ERO Officer.’ They also carry credentials with their name and organization,” it says.

And some scammers will try to get your personal information.

“Make sure you know who you’re dealing with,” says Dorman. “Scammers sometimes pose as government officials and ask for your financial information or money to apply for aid that you could get on your own for free. Government officials will never ask you for money in exchange for information or the promise of a check.”

FEMA Scams
Consumers have been alerting the Federal Emergency Management Agency recently that they’ve seen advertisements or postings that the agency is seeking to employ 1,000 people to aid in the disaster and that it is offering to pay $2,000 per week for 90 days. The advertisements provide a toll-free phone number. 

FEMA says that this particular offer is a scam. For those seeking work with FEMA, the agency lists official FEMA job opportunities to help with the response and has reviewed a list of trusted nonprofit organizations that are active in disaster response.

FEMA also says that you should avoid individuals who claim that they represent the agency and that they need to do damage inspections or repairs for a fee. These too are scams, FEMA says.

The agency provides a list of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma related scams on its website.  

Charity Scams
With images of the flooded devastation on constant rotation, it’s no surprise that Americans have been inspired to donate money and supplies for hurricane relief, but remember that crooks are eager to step in and take advantage of altruistic souls.

The FTC has published an article outlining its charity donation guidelines called “Make your hurricane donations count.

Among its recommendations:

  • Donate to charities you know and trust with a proven track record of dealing with disasters.
  • Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with current events.
  • Check out the charity with the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving AllianceCharity NavigatorCharity Watch, or GuideStar.

Steps to Take

The Department of Justice has issued guidelines to help those interested in giving to avoid scammers:

  • Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming emails, including clicking links contained within those messages, because they may contain computer viruses.

  • Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as members of charitable organizations or officials asking for donations via email or social networking sites.

  • Beware of organizations with copycat names that are similar to but not exactly the same as those of reputable charities.

  • Be cautious of emails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Open attachments only from known senders.

  • Check to ensure that contributions are received and used for intended purposes. Make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf.

  • Do not be pressured into making contributions; reputable charities do not use such tactics.

  • Be aware of whom you are dealing with when providing your personal and financial information. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.

  • Avoid cash donations, if possible. Pay by credit card or write a check directly to the charity. Do not make checks payable to individuals.

  • Legitimate charities do not normally solicit donations via money transfer services. Most legitimate charities’ websites end in .org rather than .com.  

If you think that you have been contacted by a fraudster, make sure to report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud, at 866-720-5721. The line is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, emails can be sent to disaster@leo.gov and information can be faxed to 225-334-4707.