Austin residents have a lot of work to do cleaning up and rebuilding in the aftermath of the recent floods. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people out there who want to make this already-difficult work even harder. According to Attorney General Paxton,“In past disasters we have seen patterns of the first disaster followed by a second disaster in the form of shady individuals perpetrating scams and fraud.” Nothing brings scammers out of the shadows like a natural disaster, and knowing how to avoid scams can be tricky.
There are several different types of fraud that are most common following disasters like our recent flooding. Fraudsters may have stress and mayhem on their side, teaming up to take advantage of people during a confusing time, but you can learn how to avoid scams before they cause further damage.
How to Avoid Insurance Scams
Insurance scammers are quick to crawl out of the woodwork after a flood. If an insurance agent comes knocking, here’s how to avoid a scam:
- Did you have insurance that covered flood damage at the time of the flood? Scammers will try to sell you a policy covering flood damage, insisting that you can then file a claim. In reality, if you didn’t have flood insurance when the flood occurred, no agency will cover that damage after the fact. Anyone encouraging you to buy insurance and file a claim after the damage is already done is simply trying to steal your money.
- Does the agent represent your insurance company? Again, if you didn’t have a policy with the company at the time of the flood, then that company is not going to cover your damages. So, if an agent shows up claiming to represent a company you don’t have a policy with, they’re likely trying to scam you.
- Do not give out any personal information or documentation like drivers licenses to anyone claiming to be an insurance agent. If you have insurance, contact your provider yourself. If not, or if you need additional help, you can check with the Austin Disaster Relief Network or contact 2-1-1.
How to Avoid Contractor Scams
In the aftermath of the flood, you’ll likely have hordes of contractors knocking on your door. It can be difficult to avoid scams of this type, because plenty of reputable contractors will be making the rounds alongside the scammers.
When a contractor approaches you with an offer, here’s what to do to avoid a scam:
- Stall for time. DO NOT immediately agree to anything, no matter how desperate your situation is.
- Approach hiring someone to deal with your flood cleanup the same way you would go about hiring someone under normal circumstances: by researching and comparing various contractors.
- Get the contractor’s name when someone shows up to offer their services, then research them online. Do they have a well-established business that’s been active for several years? If so, evaluate them as you normally would: do they have good reviews and a solid reputation? Are their prices competitive?
- Never trust a contractor who pressures you for money upfront. This is an almost certain sign of a scammer who’s banking on you being so stressed over the damage to your property that you’ll make a rash decision. Once you hand over the money, this person will either hit the road without doing the job at all or will do a quick, shoddy job in order to move on to the next desperate homeowner.
How to Avoid Charity Scams
It’s been proven time and time again that Americans are very charitable people. As a whole, we have a strong tendency to pull together during a crisis to make sure that everyone gets the help they need. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people out there who aren’t above impersonating charities or creating fake ones for their own personal gain. Before you open your wallet to help Austin’s flood victims, here’s how to avoid scams:
- Do you recognize the name of the charity? If not, do a little research. Charity Navigator and Wise Giving Alliance both maintain databases of reputable charities. If the charity in question isn’t listed on either of those sites, you likely shouldn’t donate.
- Double check the names of recognizable charities. Many scammers will use fake charity names that are very similar to well-established organizations in the hopes that people will donate without taking a closer look.
- Question door-to-door solicitors. What organization do they represent? What is the organization’s address/phone number? How will the donations be used? If their answers seem legitimate, tell them that you’ll mail in your donation after you’ve done a little more research.
- Never make a check out to an individual. If you decide to donate on the spot to a door-to-door solicitor, it’s safest to write a check, but make it out to their organization, never to the person soliciting. If they insist that you make it out to them or some other individual, they are almost certainly trying to scam you.
- Does the charity have a physical address? If someone emails you a link to make a donation, or you come across such a link elsewhere online, always visit the organization’s website first. A charity that does not list a physical address or other contact information on their site is rarely legitimate. Another scammer red flag: the only address listed is a P.O. Box.
AG Paxton has also warned Austin residents to be on the lookout for price gouging on gas, food, medicines and other necessities. Price gouging is illegal and the AG’s office will prosecute any businesses found to be guilty of the practice. You can visit the Texas Attorney General website to learn more about price gouging and what to do if you suspect a business is guilty of it.
Don’t assume you’re too smart to be scammed. Anyone can fall victim to a scam, especially during a confusing, stressful situation like the Austin floods. What’s more, many scammers are professionals. They know what to say and do to appear reputable. When you assume that you’d instantly spot a scammer, you’re actually making their job easier. You’ve essentially convinced yourself that you don’t need to double check credentials or do your homework because if this person were a scammer, you’d already know.
Uniforms and titles don’t mean they’re not a scammer. Scammers will pose as insurance agents, police officers, city officials, or anything else they believe will make you trust them more easily. This type of scammer may even be after more than just some quick money in the short term. They may try to solicit information from you that would enable them to steal your identity—potentially causing far greater problems than the flood did. NEVER give out bank account information, your social security number, or any other type of personal information to someone that you did not contact yourself for a specific purpose.
The Austin community has its work cut out for it, but we know it’s nothing our weird, wonderful city can’t handle. We’re here to help if you need to find an Austin dumpster rental to aid in your cleanup. Any community organizations who could use a helping hand with their flood cleanup might also want to check out our dumpster donation program.