As we leave flooding season here in Minnesota, it’s important to remember that there are low-lifes who don’t mind preying on people when they are at their weakest and most vulnerable. That’s true in many situations, but the one I’m talking about specifically is the post-disaster scam.
The most prevalent is probably the home-repair con. If you have damage to your home from a disaster, be prepared to have people knocking on your door offering to fix your house. We had a nasty hail storm a couple of years ago and were plagued with contractors for months. Most of these were not con-men, but it is a safe bet that some were. There are two basic home-repair cons after a disaster.
The first is to over-promise and under-deliver. These people may just be inexperienced, but if someone claims to be able to replace your roof, your siding, and your deck for half of what anyone else is offering, run. The solution is to get multiple quotes and to check licenses and references. Then, get a written estimate. No reputable company will complain about any of that. If it feels to good to be true, it probably is.
The second common home-repair scam is to take your money and run. Most big contracting companies want to deal with your insurance company directly. That’s because they know they can pad the labor costs and add a mark-up to materials. Some just want to get the insurance money and run. Either way, I insist on dealing with the insurance company myself, so I can pay the contractor when the work is finished to my satisfaction.
Another common scam is the advance-fee loan con. This is perpetrated by scum preying on those people unfortunate, unlucky, or unwise enough to not have insurance to cover disaster damage. They will promise below-market interest rates, fast closing, and no credit check. All you have to do is give them a large down payment to seal the deal and they will “guarantee” the loan. In my world, guarantee does not refer to the art of leaving the state with someone else’s money, but that’s how this scam ends. Once again, don’t fall for “dream deals”. Never give money to a company you haven’t verified is legitimate and never(ever, ever, ever) give money or personal information to a stranger over the phone. If you didn’t initiate the contact and verify the company, don’t do business with them.
The third major con attacks the generous nature of most people when faced with another’s hardship. The charity con. Donating money to help people in need is an honorably act. Please make sure that you are donating to an actual charity, not a scam artist with a credit-card machine. If you didn’t initiate the contact, hang up and verify the charity is legitimate, then call back and donate money on your own. You can verify a charity’s status by contacting your state government, usually the Attorney General’s office.
As always, you are in charge of your safety and security, both financial and otherwise. Don’t let yourself be scammed.