Natural disasters – a nightmare for your property.
From a brutal winter storm like Texas experienced, to hurricanes, wildfires, tornados, and more, natural disasters can damage or destroy your property.
But, after a disaster, cleanup isn’t the only thing you have to worry about.
While you’re busy trying to repair broken pipes or patch your roof, scammers are looking to make a quick buck at your expense.
If you’re not careful, these fraudsters could clean you out – rather than helping you clean up.
So, how can you avoid these natural disaster scams?
That’s what we’re going to cover in this post. Before we get into how to avoid fraud, let’s take a look at common natural disaster scams.
Not all disaster fraud is the same. So, you need to watch out for multiple different types of scams. Here are some of the most common:
These scammers will approach you claiming to be contractors who can get to work immediately. If you sign their form, they can work directly with your insurer. Because of this, they claim they can waive insurance deductibles and offer discounted rates.
In reality, these scammers want you to sign an assignment of benefits. This insurance document allows them to collect payments from your insurer. After they get the money, they’ll disappear. All without doing any work.
Along with posing as contractors to get you to sign an assignment of benefits, scammers pose as contractors to get your money. They’ll go door to door offering to do repairs quickly, cheaply, or both. Then, they’ll demand prepayment.
Once they get your money, these fake contractors will take off. You’ll be out the entire cost of a repair – without getting any work done.
Another way fraudsters might target you is by posing as Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) agents. A FEMA home inspection is the first step to getting federal aid for damages.
Scammers use this to their advantage to collect your personal info. They’ll claim they need your social security number, bank account, or other information to process your claim. And, they might even demand payment right then for an inspection.
In reality, FEMA agents will never ask for this information. All they need is a FEMA identification number – which you can easily register for online.
Even if you aren’t hard hit by a natural disaster, you could still be targeted by scams. Fraudsters will set up fake charities claiming to help storm victims. But, the money you donate to these fake charities won’t help anyone. Instead, scammers will keep your donation as a profit.
Along with knowing the common types of scams, you should also know the red flags to watch out for. If you encounter any of these red flags, you might be in danger of getting scammed.
One common red flag is contractors or other service providers demanding prepayment. Before even beginning work, these scammers want you to pay them in full. That way, they can take off without having to do the work.
Another warning sign is pressure to sign a contract. Before they can help you, fraudsters say they need you to sign a contract. But, this contract is likely to be something harmful – like an assignment of benefits.
Similar to pressure to sign a contract, fake contractors may pressure you to sign an assignment of benefits. That way, they can get paid directly from your insurer before taking off.
Scammers may also inflate the number of repairs you need. So, you’ll pay them for work you don’t need. Since those repairs are unneeded, they won’t do much of the work you pay them for.
Claiming to have materials left over, fraudsters will tell you they can do the work much cheaper than others. However, these scammers never intend to do any work. Instead, they’ll take your money and run.
One last way to spot a scammer is by checking their license plates. Many fraudsters travel from out of state to take advantage of the disaster in other states. Since it’s hard to get a license in multiple states, you should be wary of out-of-state service providers.
Now that you know scam types and red flags, here are some steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of natural disaster fraud.
One way to avoid being scammed is to avoid companies that go door to door. Many reputable contractors won’t go door to door to get customers. This is usually a sales technique reserved for fake contractors, electricians, and other repair people.
Instead, you should look for reputable companies online. Or, get recommendations from friends or family who are happy with the work done.
You should also confirm that people are who they say they are. Scammers will often pose as government workers to get you to trust them.
So, if a FEMA agent or other government employee approaches you, you should ask to see identification. Then, you should call the organization they claim to work for. If they can’t produce an ID or don’t check out with their organization, they’re likely trying to scam you.
Your insurance company is a reliable resource to assess what repairs you actually need. Scammers will often try to upsell you. But, your insurance company will tell you what you need fixed. That way, you can avoid spending unnecessarily.
And, your insurance company can recommend reliable contractors and other repair providers. Using their recommendations is one way to ensure you’re not scammed.
Another way to avoid fraud is to get multiple estimates for any work you need done. High-pressure sales tactics are a favorite of scammers. But, if you’re determined to get multiple estimates, it’s unlikely you’ll fall for their scam.
And, getting multiple estimates can help you get the best price possible.
When you get multiple estimates, you should research each company. Make sure each company has a reputable website and verified positive reviews before deciding to go with one. This reduces the chance that you’ll end up with a fraudster.
To avoid getting scammed, it’s also important to make sure your contractor or other service provider has the right insurance. So, you need to verify that they’re licensed, bonded, and insured. This helps protect you if anything goes wrong while they’re making repairs.
If you want to further protect yourself, you can consider asking to be a named insured while they work on your property. This means you’ll be covered by their policy if something goes wrong. Another option is adding additional limits and coverage. That way, you’re not liable if there’s a problem.
You should only make the final payment when you’re happy with the work. Once you pay the contractor, they have little incentive to correct any problems with their work. So, you’ll be stuck with shoddy repairs. Or, in the case of fraudsters, no repairs.
One last way to avoid fraud and scams is to protect your personal information. Contractors, FEMA agents, and other disaster professionals shouldn’t need your social security number. Or, your banking information. Scammers will use this information to clean out your account, take out loans in your name, and more.
So, if anyone demands your personal information, you shouldn’t give it to them. And, you should look for another contractor or other repair service provider. That way, you avoid getting scammed. Plus, you’ll get reputable repairs done.
After a natural disaster, you have so much to worry about. Making repairs, cleaning up debris, and more can all be costly and time-consuming.
Unfortunately, that’s not all you have to worry about. Natural disasters are a great opportunity for scammers to take advantage of unsuspecting landlords.
But, by knowing the types of scams, red flags to look out for, and steps you can take to avoid fraud, you can stay safe from natural disaster scams.
Another way you can protect yourself if a natural disaster hits is by having the right coverage. As a landlord, you need a policy crafted for your specific needs. Not just an extension of your homeowner’s policy.
If you want insurance designed for you as a landlord, that’s also fast and easy to get, consider Obie. With a speedy and transparent quote, you can be protected in the event of a natural disaster in no time at all.