Scammers Harm Hurricane Rebuilding Efforts

Millions of homeowners are getting ready to rebuild damaged property now that Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have moved out of Florida, Texas, and other affected areas. But media reports warn of a new threat: storm scammers.

“We’ve seen it after every significant disaster, and we don’t expect anything different once the Harvey-induced floods recede,” Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the nonprofit National Insurance Crime Bureau, told CNN.

Indeed, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has already issued a warning about “bad actors … taking advantage of victims and their circumstances.” Paxton’s office has created a hotline for reporting any suspected fraud. Just days after the Harvey flooding, the office had already received 550 Harvey-related complaints.

The Justice Department created a special task force to go after such scammers after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. More than 1,400 people have been prosecuted for Katrina-related fraud, according to the Justice Department.

Here are some tips to share with your clients:

  • Don’t feel pressured or rushed to sign a repair contract.
  • Be leery of anyone who requests cash or a check up front. Most legitimate contractors will expect you to pay in installments or once the work is completed.
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure the contractors are licensed in your state.
  • Ask for personal references.
  • Gather more than one bid on any work that needs to be completed.
  • Never sign a blank contract.

Source: “How to Avoid ‘Storm Chaser’ Fraud After Harvey,” CNNMoney (Aug. 29, 2017)