Hurricane-related threats come not just from the storms themselves but also from scammers who use those weather emergencies to cheat people, federal and state officials warn.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, some of the most common weather-related frauds and scams include:
- People who promise to help you with clean-up or repairs, but disappear with your money
- Those who pretend to be FEMA or other government agencies
- People who promise you a job – if only you pay to get it
- Those who promise you a place to rent, if only you wire them the money to get the place sight unseen
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried expanded on those topics, offering these anti-fraud tips:
Clean-up and repair scams: After disasters, unlicensed contractors and scammers may appear with promises of quick repairs, clean-up, and debris removal. Some may demand upfront payment and not do the work, claim you’ll get a discount but quote outrageous prices, or lack needed skills. Before you do business with any company providing these services:
- Do your research: Ask for IDs, licenses, proof of insurance, and references. See if local contact information is on their trucks. Check with FDACS’ Division of Consumer Services for complaints.
- Get another estimate: Check if other companies offering similar services are providing quotes with comparable prices.
- Review contracts carefully: Ensure all promises a company makes are in writing and that you understand what you’re signing.
- Never use cash: Always pay with a check or a credit card and never make the final payment until the work is complete.
Imposter Scams: Imposter scams come in many varieties but often work the same way, a scammer pretends to be someone you trust and tries to convince you to send them money or personal information:
- Posing as government: Some scammers pretend to be government officials, inspectors, or utility workers who say immediate work is required. Always ask to see an ID. If anyone asks you for payment or your financial information, it’s a scam.
- No fees: Note that FEMA does not charge application fees. If someone wants money to help you qualify for FEMA funds, it may be a scam.
Job Scams: Scammers often advertise in the same places as real employers and job placement firms, but they lie about your chances of getting a job and often ask you to pay before you get one — which is a sure sign of a scam. Authentic resources to locate job opportunities after a disaster:
- CareerOneStop: Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, CareerOneStop lists hundreds of thousands of jobs.
- Colleges: College career service offices have helpful resources. If you’re not a current or former student, some schools may still let you access their job listing resources.
Rental Listing Scams: If you’re looking for a place to live, avoid anyone asking you to wire money or who asks for security deposits or rent before you’ve met or signed a lease.
- False listing: Some scammers hijack a real listing by changing the email address or other contact information and posting a modified ad. Try googling some the information in a listing to see where else it’s posted and if the contact information is the same.
- Verify addresses: Other scammers create listings for places that aren’t for rent or don’t even exist. Try searching the address and contact information provided to verify it’s legitimate.
Fried also added one more topic:
Disaster Charity Scams: Scammers will often try to take advantage of the misfortune of others, including when disasters strike. Review FDACS consumer tips on donating wisely and avoiding charity scams.
What should consumers do?
- File a consumer complaint: To file a complaint, complete our online form or call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832) en Español.
- Share your story: Share your story with friends and family or on social media to help others avoid falling victim.
- Review our consumer resources: Consumers can find helpful tips and recourse on our website: FloridaConsumerHelp.com.
The FTC’s site, Dealing with Weather Emergencies, has practical ideas to help you get ready for, deal with, and recover from a weather emergency. It also has advice on how to recognize, avoid, and report frauds and scams.
Like all the FTC’s materials, the site is mobile-friendly, giving you ready access to information when and where you need it. Check out the site’s four sections:
And don’t forget to sign up for consumer alerts to get the latest information on frauds and scams.