It is expected that within the next couple of days, Hurricane Sandy will hit the United States and early estimates put the cost of damage at more than 15 billion dollars. Much of the East Coast of the United States and inland states as far west as Ohio are predicted to sustain serious damage from wind, rain and even snow. Much misery will be caused by the storm, but on top of the misery caused by a natural disaster will be the misery caused by scam artists and identity thieves who will take the opportunity of the storm, being deemed Frankenstorm by many, to wreak further havoc on both victims of the storm and charitably inclined Americans who may wish to donate to charities that will be present to aid storm victims. The scams will be many including, scammers and identity thieves who will pose as Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) employees and insurance company representatives in order to take personal information from victims to turn them into victims of identity theft. There will also be phony contractors looking to steal the money of victims for repair work that never gets done or is done in a shoddy fashion. Finally, there will be phony charities that will appear or charities with names confusingly similar to legitimate charities seeking your contributions while in fact, these “charities ” are just stealing your money and robbing the storm victims of a chance to get much needed help
Never give out personal information to anyone of whom you are not absolutely positive as to their identity. Federal and state agencies will not ask for fees in order to be eligible for assistance and neither will insurance companies. Also beware of people who pass themselves off as insurance adjusters promising to get you more money. Insurance adjusters are licensed in each state and you should check out any person claiming to be an adjuster before hiring them. Make sure they are who they say they are and that there are not numerous complaints against them. Never give personal information to anyone passing themselves off as a FEMA or other emergency aid agency employee regardless of how good their identification card looks. ID cards can be forged. Rather, call FEMA or any other agency that they purport to represent and confirm whether or not they are legitimate. The same goes for a representative of your insurance agency. Call your insurance company to confirm the identity of the person purporting to represent the insurance company. Don’t hire any contractors, particularly those who contact you personally at your home, by phone or over the Internet unless you have verified that they are properly licensed, insured and that there are not numerous complaints against them. This information can generally be obtained online from your state’s licensing board. Finally, never give your credit card or other information to a telephone caller soliciting for a charity. It is important to remember that although legitimate charities may call you even if you are on the federal Do Not Call list, you never can be sure when a telephone charitable solicitation is made as to whether the particular caller is legitimate or not. If you are interested in donating to a particular charity that contacts you, first go to www.charitynavigator.org to find out whether or not the charity is legitimate as well as to learn how much of your donation will actually go toward the charitable works of the charity and how much goes to salaries and administrative costs of the charity. Once you have determined if you want to donate to a particular charity, the safest way to do so is by going to their website directly.