Natural disasters bring out the best in people who want to donate to charities to help the victims. Unfortunately natural disasters such as  the floods going on now in the Midwest also bring out the worst in scammers who are quick to take advantage of the generosity of people by contacting them posing as charities, but instead of collecting funds to help the victims of the storms, these scam artists steal the money for themselves under false pretenses. Charities are not subject to the federal Do Not Call List so even if you are enrolled in the Do Not Call List, legitimate charities are able to contact you. The problem is that whenever you are contacted on the phone, you can never be sure as to who is really calling you so you may be contacted either by a phony charity or a scammer posing as a legitimate charity. Similarly, when you are solicited for a charitable contribution by email or text message you cannot be sure as to whether the person contacting you is legitimate or not.

Another problem about which people often are unaware involves the sale of used cars that were damaged in the storm. In the past, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles and other state RMVs have issued warnings to consumers to be on the lookout for used cars with phony title papers that indicate that the particular used car in which you are interested is from a state such as Oregon when in fact, these cars are cars that were from hurricane ravaged areas with many of them containing hidden water damage that could present serious safety problems.

In one instance, a report for a car purported to be from Oregon showed a damage report filed previously that showed the car listed as a total loss vehicle with a salvage title listed in New York and a new title later issued in Oregon. This practice of transporting a car to another state and re-registering it is called “title washing.” You should always have a mechanic whom you trust check out any used car that you are considering buying.

Other scams that will occur involve identity thieves posing as Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) employees and insurance company representatives in order to take personal information from storm 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.

TIPS

Never provide credit card information over the phone to anyone whom you have not called or in response to an email or text message. Before you give to any charity, you may wish to check out the charity with www.charitynavigator.org where you can learn whether or not the charity itself is a scam. You can also see how much of the money that the charity collects actually goes toward its charitable purposes and how much it uses for fund raising and administrative costs.

Whenever you purchase a used car you should always get a full report on its history. The United States Department of Justice operates The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System which provides much information about used cars. The NVMTIS provides a list of various companies such as Carfax that have been approved to provide reliable reports. These companies charge between $2.95 and $12.99 for a report that will provide detailed information on any used car you are considering purchasing.

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.

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