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After a disaster, scammers try to take advantage of people impacted by the situation. Unfortunately, people with disabilities are at a high risk because some consumer protections may not be accessible to them. You might need to take additional steps to avoid scams after a disaster. Knowing who and what to trust is important.
How to avoid scams after a disaster
- Don’t let someone pressure you into a decision and don’t make a decision under pressure. Take your time and discuss your options with people or organizations you trust.
- Beware of contractors going door to door and people offering “opportunities” or forcing you to make a snap decision. Take your time, and never sign anything without fully reading and understanding it first.
- Don’t fall for people charging too much in times of crisis (this is called “price gouging”). If you believe you have been a victim of price gouging, file a Consumer Complaint with the Texas Attorney General (AG).
- Understand protections under the Texas Business & Commerce Code related to unlawful Deceptive Trade Practices. Individuals with disabilities may be targeted due to certain vulnerabilities.
- Stay updated on possible scams happening in your area. After major disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website includes “Rumor Control” pages to dispel misinformation and help you protect yourself against scams. To find the “Rumor Control” page for the disaster that impacted you, visit the FEMA website and enter the name of the disaster and “rumors” (e.g., “Harvey rumors”) into the search field.
Protect yourself against identity theft
After a disaster you may be asked to give people sensitive information, like your Social Security number. Scammers can see this as a chance to steal your identity. Even if you’re careful to avoid scams, you may want to protect your identity, bank account, and credit record.
A federal law now allows you to freeze and unfreeze your credit for free at the three nationwide credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Freezing your credit restricts access to your credit file for potential new creditors, which makes it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.
You can also put a fraud alert on your credit record for one year. A fraud alert means lenders should call you to verify your identity before extending new credit, like opening up a new credit card or giving out a loan.
How to spot a scammer
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. Ask questions like:
- Can I see your identification and contractor’s license?
- Can you provide three recent recommendations from others who have used your services?
- How long have you been in business?
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 don’t know.
- Remember that government employees will never ask you for financial information such as your bank account number.
Watch out for these common disaster scams
After disasters, charitable giving spikes. Scammers may create fake charities to scam people who want to help. Sometimes these scams use names that are similar to organizations you may be familiar with to get you to make a “donation.” The Federal Trade Commission has more information about donating wisely and charity scams.
People pretending to be FEMA
All FEMA representatives, including home inspectors, have a laminated photo ID. Don’t trust someone with just a FEMA jacket or shirt and no photo ID. Call FEMA at 1-800-621-3362 if you’re unsure if someone is truly a FEMA representative. No FEMA, federal, or state workers will ask for or accept money. FEMA doesn’t charge for home inspections, disaster assistance, or help filling out applications. If you have any doubt that a person is really a FEMA worker, don’t give them any personal information. Learn more on FEMA’s Disaster Fraud webpage.
Mortgage repayment/modification scams
After a disaster, scammers may offer homeowners assistance with negotiating or delaying their mortgage payments. Your options should ALWAYS be discussed directly with your mortgage servicer. Contact your mortgage servicer for payment assistance and never pay anyone to negotiate with your servicer on your behalf.
You may receive a recorded call promising some type of 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 scams trying to get your credit card or checking account information. If you did apply for anything, check with the place you applied with. For information about what assistance is available, visit DisasterAssistance.gov.
How to report a scam
If you or someone you know has been a victim of a scam or fraud, here’s who you can contact:
- Local police: Make a complaint to your local police or law enforcement agency.
- Attorney General’s Office: File a Consumer Complaint with the Texas AG.
- Federal Trade Commission: Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission.
- Disaster Fraud Hotline: The National Center for Disaster Fraud will investigate and prosecute fraud, as well as advocate for disaster victims. You can call the Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.
- Social Security: If you suspect fraud, abuse, or waste of Social Security, report it to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) by calling the fraud hotline at 1-800-269-0271. You can also report fraud and scams to SSA OIG online.
- FBI: If you’ve been a victim of cybercrime, file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
- State Agencies: For lost IDs or documents, such as your driver’s license, car titles, etc.
For more information on frauds and scams, visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Frauds and Scams page.
Publication Code: DPR23
Disclaimer: Disability Rights Texas strives to update its materials on an annual basis, and this handout is based upon the law at the time it was written. The law changes frequently and is subject to various interpretations by different courts. Future changes in the law may make some information in this handout inaccurate.
The handout is not intended to and does not replace an attorney’s advice or assistance based on your particular situation.
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