UPDATED: May 2020
Florida is no stranger to hurricane and scam artists. Natural disasters often bring an influx of con artists ready to take advantage of suffering and confusion.
That’s especially true in the era of the coronavirus pandemic. Federal and state officials have seen an explosion of new scams and frauds springing up.
Law-enforcement officials have told AARP Florida about fake testing scams, efforts to use the pandemic economic stimulus payments as leverage to get you to give up sensitive personal information, or even efforts by white-coated fake “medical” professionals at your front door to distract you at the front door while burglars break into the back.
But other disaster-related fraud is just the same old thievery. Watch out for these three scams:
In the midst of a disaster, a homeowner in need of immediate repairs may neglect normal precautions and hire a dubious provider. A common fraud is when an individual posing as a contractor or repairperson says he will help you, but just take the money and run.
Things you can do:
- No matter the urgent need, be cautious. Check references, and only deal with licensed and insured providers. Check the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation database for all licensed businesses.
- Review the contract thoroughly; get written estimates; ask someone (friend, family, or attorney) to review the contract before signing. Tip: Beware of what you sign. Know the term Assignment of Benefits and its contract stipulations.
- Avoid dealing with contractors that request money up front before a job is completed. Get receipts for all repair payments, including cash. Tip: Take a photo of all invoices and receipts!
- Ask your insurer to survey the damage and see if they have a list of approved contractors.
Scammers pose as both legitimate (e.g., Red Cross) and non-existent organization workers collecting money to assist with disaster relief. They may appear at your door, call you, or send an email to solicit fake contributions in the wake of a disaster, claiming to need personal bank account information or pressuring you to give cash on the spot.
Things you can do:
- Be alert for charities that seem to spring up overnight. Tip: Verify that the charity is legitimate by visiting charitynavigator.org
- Make your check or money order out to the charitable organization, not the person collecting the donation.
- Do not give out personal or financial information including your credit card or bank account number unless you know the charity is reputable.
- Never send cash: you can’t be sure the organization will receive your donation, and you won’t have a record for tax purposes.
- Be cautious of electronic requests for charitable donations; do not respond to any unsolicited e-mails.
DISASTER ASSISTANCE IMPOSTERS
Crooks pretend to be federal (e.g., FEMA) or local government employees, or insurance adjusters, who may try to obtain your personal information (Social Security number, bank account, etc.) under the ruse of opening your claim or moving it forward.
Things you can do:
- Ask for identification from building inspectors or utility workers; legitimate inspectors are required to carry ID and show it to you upon request. Tip: Take a picture of their ID or them (include car/truck license plate if you can) with your phone.
- Do not hand over ANY money or credit card. Government workers will never ask for payment to perform their duties or offer to increase your assistance grant for a fee.
Take copies to your house of worship, senior center, or other civic group.
If you feel you have been the victim of disaster fraud, contact and report to the: