Avoid Scams Following Disasters

June 25, 2024, 1:21 pm | Carol Ehlers

Phone call from unknown number by terovesalainen/stock.adobe.com.AMES, Iowa – A recorded call promises a government grant, flood insurance or help with applications for assistance. Don't respond or provide personal information or payment to these callers. They may be scammers trying to get your credit card or checking account information, according to Carol Ehlers, human sciences specialist 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,” Ehlers advised.

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

Ask questions

Be alert and ask questions, Ehlers said. For example:

  • 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?

If the person trying to sell you a product or service can’t or won’t answer your questions, or if the paperwork doesn’t match the promises made to you, these are warning signs.

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, Ehlers said.

  • 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 don’t know.
  • Remember that government employees will not generally ask you for payment or financial information such as your bank account number.

Don’t 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 and investigate, and never sign anything without fully reading and understanding it first,” Ehlers said. “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 Iowans are 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.

After major disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has a Current Disasters page 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.

If you’re 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.

According to Ehlers, ISU Extension and Outreach provides access to information and educational resources to help Iowans recover from the current floods affecting northwest Iowa. AnswerLine, 800-262-3804, provides information and resources for Iowans with home and family questions. The toll-free hotline is available Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. Language interpretation is available. Dial 711 for TTY/TDD.

Photo credit: terovesalainen/stock.adobe.com

About the Authors: