When both natural and man-caused disasters happen, there is always an outpouring of goodwill. The big issue facing people eager to provide aid is how exactly to help those in need. The easiest way for people to help is often to send money, since more workers physically on the ground can sometimes cause more problems. Unfortunately where there are people eager to send money, there are scammers equally as willing to take that money off their hands.
It happened in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Centers on 9/11 and then again in the aftermath of Katrina. Scammers target areas affected by disasters. They focus on the people looking for help and the people looking to help. In the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy, the scammers are at it again.
How Do the Scammers Do It?
Victims report a number of ways that they were affected. One of the most common scams involves fake charities. The fake charities reach out to the victims and explain that they are setting up a relief fund for them. In order to take part in the proceeds, they must submit personal information so the charities can verify who they are and transfer relief funds to them. Just like that their identity has been stolen. On the flip side, people looking to help hear about these fake charities that set up websites, email blasts and phone answering services. They donate money and so not only are they out the money, but their identity has likely been stolen as well.
Companies will also set up fundraisers where they will try and solicit credit card information over the phone to make donations to victim relief funds. Again, these people think they are donating to help the relief efforts, but are giving out personal information that will result in huge credit card bills and wrecked credit reports instead.
Fake contractors also manage to scam their share of people by drawing up plans to help rebuild homes and repair damage, demanding partial payment up front and then disappearing with the money.
How to Avoid a Scam?
A few simple guidelines will help individuals avoid the sting of these relief effort scams. First and foremost, do not send cash. There is no trail to follow so the cash could end up anywhere. Do not give out personal or financial information unless you have verified the identity of the person requesting that information or you know and trust the company from previous donations or research. You should research charities through the Better Business Bureau before donating a penny. When in doubt, stick to charities you know. Be wary of callers who insist on you making a donation at that specific time. If the charity is legitimate, it should not matter if you donate today, tomorrow or in a week.
If you are dealing with a contractor or repairman, verify their business licenses when possible. Make sure you see a copy of their insurance. Ask for references on previous projects. Do not pay for work that has not been completed.
It is sad that nefarious characters use disasters to steal identities and empty bank accounts. People who have spent lifetimes building good credit could have that ruined in the blink of an eye due to one of these scams. It is important to exercise caution and good judgment when donating to help disaster victims and these scams should not deter you from helping others. If you or someone you know was the victim of a scam and need help dealing with the repercussions of identity theft or fraudulent credit card use, please contact our firm of experienced attorneys as soon as possible.