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Avoid scams following disasters

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You may receive a recorded call promising a government grant, flood insurance, or help with applications for assistance. Do not respond or provide personal information or payment to these callers. They may be scams trying to get your credit card or checking account information.

According to Carol Ehlers, human sciences specialist in family wellbeing and finance with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, “Scammers often try to take advantage of you during a crisis –– when you may be vulnerable and looking for help, particularly when you don’t have phone or internet service to do research. Be on the lookout for scams by fake government employees, bogus charities, dishonest contractors, and others trying to take advantage of your situation.” 

 

Recognizing the tricks that scammers use can help you spot scams more easily.

1. Ask questions. Be alert to warning signs. If the person trying to sell you a product or service cannot or will not answer your questions, or if the paperwork doesn’t match the promises made to you, these are warning signs. Example questions you can ask include: Can I see your identification and contractor’s license? Can you provide three recent recommendations from the area? How long have you been in business?

2. Confirm identities. Con artists may pose as government employees, insurance adjusters, law enforcement officials, bank employees, or whoever it takes to get to your money. Scammers can easily fake titles and uniforms. Always ask for identification and call the organization the person claims to work for to confirm that the person does work there. Never give personal information to anyone you do not know. Remember that government employees will not generally ask you for payment or financial information such as your bank account number.

3. Do not make a decision under pressure. After a disaster, contractors and others may arrive at your door offering to help with home repair, debris removal, and other disaster-related assistance. Beware of contractors going door-to-door and people offering unsolicited “opportunities” or high-pressure tactics to force you to make a snap decision. Take your time. Stop, think, investigate, and never sign anything without fully reading and understanding it first.

4. Stay up to date on possible scams happening in your area. Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird urges Iowans to be on the lookout for scammers and shady contractors targeting victims of recent storms and flooding. If an Iowan is suspicious of a storm-chaser scam or price gouging, they should contact the Iowa Attorney General’s Office at 888-777-4590 or file a complaint online (https://www.iowaattorneygeneral.gov/for-consumers/file-a-consumer-complaint).

After major disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a “Current Disasters” webpage (https://www.fema.gov/disaster/current) that lists recent disaster declarations and includes a tool you can use to search by location. Read more information from FEMA about spotting and reporting fraud at https://www.fema.gov/about/offices/security/disaster-fraud.

If you are unsure about any offer you receive, contractor you encounter, or action you’re asked to take, ask a trusted relative, friend, or an attorney for a second opinion before acting.

Ehlers also reminds you that ISU Extension and Outreach provides access to information and educational resources to help Iowans recover from the current floods affecting northwest Iowa. For more information and a full list of resources, visit https://www.extension.iastate.edu/disasterrecovery/.

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