Unfortunately, as has been the case in the aftermath of other disasters, scammers and other criminals will most likely be out in full force very quickly in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. These unscrupulous people will be looking for victims to scam and defraud out of their money for repair work, cleanup and donations to fake charities to “help” victims after Hurricane Irene. There are ways to protect yourself and others from becoming victims of the Irene Aftermath criminals.
Be cautious about who you call
When attempting to find a repair person or contractor in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, read the advertisements carefully regarding the types of work each particular company, contractor or repair person is qualified to do. Be sure to ask for references when you call. Just because a company is listed on the internet or in the telephone book does not mean they are reputable; it simply means they paid advertisement fees to be listed.
New advertisements for businesses or contractors which claim to be “hurricane repair and clean-up specialists” or similar advertisement wording may suddenly appear in the days and weeks immediately following Hurricane Irene. It may be to your advantage to avoid businesses and contractors not already well established in the community prior to Irene.
Most professionals are not permitted to make repairs or do other work that is not written on their work order. If repair personnel offer to complete additional work for cash payment without listing it on the work order or without getting permission from their employer to perform the work, you most likely will not be covered by any warranty or have any other type of recourse if the work is not completed satisfactorily. Protect yourself by making a list of all needed repairs so you can discuss them with the repair companies you call.
Making sure the needed repairs you discussed by telephone are on the work order. Upon completion of the work, check the work order to be sure only the work that you authorized is listed. Always get a copy of the work that was done and a receipt at the time of service. Make sure the repair person or contractor signs the work order and receipt as well as yourself.
Leave it to the pros
Many doors may be knocked on by people going door-to-door offering to perform necessary repair work after Hurricane Irene at a “price that can’t be beat.” These people will most likely require a payment to “get started” or to “purchase materials.” Once they have your money, it is unlikely you will ever see them again. If they do get started, you may find that they soon disappear with little work completed and your money gone. If they do actually complete the job, it may be such shoddy work that you have to pay out significant additional money to have a true professional do the necessary repairs properly.
Never allow any person that you do not know and have not hired through a reputable company with references perform any type of work in the Hurricane Irene clean-up. Reputable companies specializing in repair and remodeling normally employ people who are required to have professional certification, guaranteeing they have been properly trained in their chosen field and are competent to perform the type of repairs, remodeling or other work expected for their position. Reputable companies also have almost certainly performed background checks on their employees.
Protect your elderly loved ones and neighbors from scams and fraud
The elderly are often the targets of repair and remodeling scams even when a disaster such as Hurricane Irene has not occurred. In events such as Irene, they may be specifically targeted even more.
Elderly people often live on limited incomes. They also were raised in an era that was more trusting when it was okay to allow a door-to-door repair person into your home to assess the damage and make repairs “at a price that can’t be beat.”
Some elderly persons do not have the capacity to fully understand contracts they sign and may be bound by something that is not needed or purposefully very overly priced. They may be at risk of theft or have their own safety jeopardized by letting door-to-door scammers and criminals into their home or by giving bank account or credit card numbers or other personal information over the telephone when “Sam” the repairman calls on the phone and just needs to get their bank and social security information to start the paper work so he can come tomorrow and start the necessary work. Of course, “Sam” never shows but now has personal information for illegal charges and identity theft.
So talk to your older loved ones immediately; tell them that as bad as the damage is from Hurricane Irene, there are dishonest people who will take advantage of honest people like themselves. Urge them to protect their personal information and never let door-to-door repair people in their home. Tell them to never give money to someone they do not know as a reputable repair person to perform any work related to the clean-up from Hurricane Irene. Recommend a professional or offer to make the call for them so they stay safe and are not victims of an uncaring criminal that preys on the elderly.
Only give to reputable charities
One of the most common scams after a disaster is fraudulent “charities” soliciting for money to “help” victims and to aid in the clean-up and repair of homes, businesses, and communities. Since Hurricane Katrina, scam “charity” agencies and individuals have been uncovered who solicited donations to help in the aftermath of that hurricane, some of which received donations of huge dollar amounts, often in the tens of thousands of dollars. Yet very little if any of the money was ever channeled to proper resources to distribute the “aid.”
In less than two months after Hurricane Katrina, federal and state officials discovered scams such as a self-proclaimed white supremacist had set up fake online “charities” such as “neworleanscharities.com” allegedly to aid Katrina victims. In another incident, also reported by the Washington Post, police officers stopped two people who were posing as volunteers from the Red Cross outside a Best Buy Store in California who had already collected $2,000. The two neither worked for nor volunteered for the Red Cross, as reported in “Fake Katrina Charities Prompt Crackdowns.” This one incident pales in comparison to the hundreds of people sentenced to prison, including several in 2011, as prosecution continues for operating scams and defrauding people and agencies of money that was allegedly for helping victims of Hurricane Katrina.
In the joint operation between the FBI, who partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other government agencies to form the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force, more than 4,600 fraudulent “charities” or other illegal scams such as individuals posing as employees or volunteers, not only from the American Red Cross, but from Salvation Army, religious organizations and churches have been uncovered thus far. Similar fraud and other criminal acts were committed to scam people through donation efforts after the earthquake in Haiti. So protect yourself from becoming a victim of these scammers and outright criminals. With horrendous figures such as these, it is imperative that individuals and businesses that want to donate to help in the Hurricane Irene aftermath know how to avoid giving to criminals instead of legitimate charities.
The most important crucial step is to not just go on-line seeking charities helping Hurricane Irene victims and then just click on any link and submit your donation. Criminals are there waiting. You may be led to a website that is not legitimate or you may unknowingly click on a phishing website set up to look like the legitimate, well-known charity. Never give to anyone going door-to-door or who is posted outside a department store. Never respond to an unsolicited email that you receive from an alleged charitable agency “helping” Hurricane Irene victims. Do not respond to anyone on a social networking or other internet site claiming to be a victim and in need of assistance. You have no way of knowing who the person really is.
If you want to donate to a legitimate agency, mail your check to the central office of your favorite well-established agency or take your donation in person to your favorite legitimate charity that has established a fund for Hurricane Irene victims. You may call your favorite well-known charity on the telephone and make your donation and indicate that it is for Hurricane Irene victims. If you have been a member at your favorite place of worship for some time, donations may be accepted that will aid Hurricane Irene victims and their communities. You may also wish to first check out charitable organizations you are considering donating to through the Charity Navigator website or the Better Business Bureau website.
Remaining patient is crucial
The damage from Hurricane Irene is massive and the need of millions of people and the communities affected by Irene is great. Yet it is important to remain patient, as difficult as that may be. If you become impatient, your sense of caution may be compromised and you may be more tempted to give in to the scammers and other criminals who make a living preying on impatient people in desperate situations. Remaining patient while waiting on the professionals to get to you protects you, your loved ones and your property. It also saves you from being the victim of the people who may be walking up to your door or dialing your telephone number right now with fraudulent donation solicitation where the only place your donation will go is in the criminal’s pocket.