The videos of the devastating floods affecting much of the Midwest have touched the heart of many Americans, who, in time of need generously reach out to help their fellow Americans. But scam artists, the only criminals to whom we refer as artists are also there to take advantage of our best instincts. They also are there to victimize even more the unfortunate victims of the floods. Warnings are now being issued by many in law enforcement, such as Missouri’s Pulaski County Sheriff Ron Long who warned people to be wary of identity thieves and scam artists using these floods as an opportunity to scam people out of their money. Two major types of scams often occur following such disasters as we are seeing in the Midwest. The first is phony charities that spring up eager to take your money, when in fact all that they are doing is stealing your money with none of it going to help the victims of the floods. The second type of scam is an identity theft scam where scammers turn up posing as government aid workers or insurance adjusters with the promise of help. They then solicit personal information from the victims, such as Social Security numbers which they then use to victimize the flood victims a second time; this time as victims of identity theft.
Before you ever give money to a charity, make sure that it is a legitimate charity. Often phony charities will have names that are deceptively similar to real charities. Go to the website http://www.charitynavigator.org where you can check and see not only if the charity is legitimate, but how much of your contribution actually goes to helping the victims and how much goes toward the charity’s fund raising, salaries and administrative expenses. There are some “legitimate” charities that keep much too much of your contributions for their own pockets. Also, when you decide on a charity to which you wish to contribute, make your contribution directly to the charity online, through the mail or by phone at numbers and addresses that you know are accurate so that you can be sure that your money will go to the real charity and not a scammer using the name of a legitimate charity. By making your payment directly to a charity you also make sure that a larger part of what you contribute will actually go to the charity. When you pay your money to a professional solicitor hired by the charity, a portion of your contribution goes to the professional fund raiser.
As for anyone asking you for personal information and representing themselves as employees of FEMA, state emergency management agencies, insurance companies or insurance adjusters, you can never be sure that the person with whom you meet actually is legitimate. Often the scammers will have counterfeit credentials. The best thing you can do is to never give personal information to such people, but rather get information from them and follow up online or on the phone with someone actually from FEMA or whatever agency or company you need to deal with. Contact them at addresses or numbers that you have confirmed are accurate. Do not trust the information given to you by a field worker who may only be posing as a legitimate FEMA employee. Verify.