Florence is gone. Here come the scams

It's a sad reality: After natural disasters, there will always be those who want to prey on the displaced, the down-and-out and the desperate.

It’s a sad reality: After natural disasters, there will always be those who want to prey on the displaced, the down-and-out and the desperate.

These scams can come in the form of financial investment offers, loan schemes, charitable crowdfunding pages or countless other predatory tactics hidden beneath a veneer of altruism.

State and federal officials are warning Hurricane Florence survivors, and those who want to help them, about scams. Here’s their advice.

Be wary of cold calls and unsolicited messages

“We know from experience that financial predators often take advantage of disasters to peddle their schemes and profit from the misfortune of others,” Ronald W. Thomas, the director of the Virginia State Corporation Commission’s Division of Securities and Retail Franchising said in an SCC release.

The SCC provided tips for Virginians to spot a scam:

“Red flags of hurricane-related scams include unsolicited email, social media messages, crowdfunding pitches or telephone calls promoting investment pools or bonds to help storm victims, water-removal or purification technologies, electricity-generating devices and distressed real estate remediation programs,” the release reads.

The SCC also recommends that people:

  • Delete unsolicited emails or messages
  • Watch out for calls or solicitations that promise quick payouts or results

Double check contractors, and get it in writing

North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey cautioned survivors against not only falling for scams, but for participating in fraudulent or questionable insurance schemes in hopes of a quick fix. That could land someone in even greater trouble.

“Don’t be tempted to conspire in a fraudulent insurance claim,” Causey said in a release. “A fraudulent claim could result in your claim not getting paid. And since insurance fraud is a crime, you could end up with serious legal problems.”

Causey also provided the following tips:

  • Run all contracts and repairs by your insurance company first
  • Demand references, identification and licenses from any contractors
  • Most importantly, “get everything in writing.”

Watch where and how you donate

Even if you’re hundreds of miles from where Florence hit, your desire to help could land you in the center of a scam. The Federal Trade Commission has advice on how to avoid sinking your money into illegitimate crowdfunding or charity schemes. Here are some of them:

  • Get detailed information about a charity before donating
  • Watch out for organizations that aren’t clear about their mission or where the money is going
  • Avoid cash donations if possible
  • Be wary of “pop-up” charity websites or organizations that seem to appear out of nowhere directly after a disaster.

The best way to ensure you’re not getting scammed? Use common sense, and contact an expert. For givers, the FTC suggests sites like the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator and Charity Watch. For survivors and those rebuilding, experts suggest checking with your insurance company or your state’s regulator from the North American Securities Administrators Association.

If you spot a scam, or fall for one yourself, report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud.