Skip to content

Flood Victims: Be Aware of Online Scams

Fake charity scammers may employ high-pressure tactics, such as claiming that immediate action is required or that disaster victims are in desperate need of help.

It’s not something anybody wants to think about it, but it’s true: scammers prey on people who have just survived natural disasters like floods, fires, and storms. 

Flood victims need to be aware of in-person and online scams that are designed to target victims and charitable donors alike. 

Let’s go over the most common ways that scammers will take advantage of a flood in order to make some money – even at the expense of those who are already suffering catastrophic losses. 

Fake FEMA Inspectors (In-Person)

All of these scams are cruel, but this one is particularly horrible because the scammer lies right to the victim’s face, even while seeing their losses firsthand. 

In these situations a person posing as a FEMA representative will go to the home of a flood victim and perform an fraudulent inspection. They may charge an inspection fee or provide a contract and demand funds to start the rehabilitation process.

The goal of a fake FEMA inspector is to collect funds in the form of fraudulent fees or payments, and/or to collect personally identifiable information (PII) that can be used later. 

FEMA representatives will never ask for payment in any form – including inspection fees, application fees, or contract costs. 

How to avoid this scam: 

  • Check the inspector’s laminated identification badge, including their name, FEMA information, and photo. 
  • Know that FEMA jackets are not proof of identification. Anyone can print a jacket that says FEMA. 
  • Refuse to share your registration number, as legitimate FEMA inspectors will already know your registration number.
Scammers may make unsolicited phone calls pretending to be from a legitimate organization or service.

Unsolicited “Confirmation Calls” and Emails (Online, Phone Calls, and Texts)

When you fill out your application for federal aid, you will submit your SSN and banking information. Scammers take advantage of this by calling, emailing, or texting you and asking you to “confirm” your personal, private identification. 

These online scams are often done under the guise of “expediting” aid following a flood. 

FEMA will never contact you to ask for your personal information. If you have registered for help, they will already have your SSN, bank information, and 9-digit FEMA identification number. They will not solicit you if you have not already contacted them for assistance. 

How to avoid this scam:

  • Ignore any unsolicited calls, texts, or emails from FEMA representatives if you have not already contacted them
  • Refuse to provide your 9-digit registration number to someone claiming to be a representative
  • Protect your social security number

Insurance Scams (In-Person, Online, Phone Calls, and Texts)

After a flood, most victims file an insurance claim for damages. 

Online scammers will take advantage of this and contact flood victims, claiming to be from an insurance company. This could take many different forms.

Examples: 

  • They may text a phishing link, asking the victim to submit personal information to verify their account
  • They may show up and pretend to be an insurance adjuster and request funds and/or personal information
  • They may send emails or make phone calls, impersonating your insurance company

Another type of insurance fraud after a flood is a contractor who comes to your property and offers to waive insurance deductibles for you or offer highly discounted rates. 

How to avoid this scam: 

  • Always contact your insurance company directly, using the phone number on your account statement
  • Do not provide any account information to someone who calls, texts, or emails you, claiming to be your insurance provider
  • Only make payments that you have initiated by contacting your insurer directly

Fake Charities & Non-profits (Online) 

The fake charity scam doesn’t target victims themselves. Instead, scammers will capitalize on the empathy of individuals who want to help victims through a donation. 

Anyone can create a nice looking website or crowdfunding page, and many crowdfunding sites do minimal fact-checking when approving a campaign. This means that scammers can fabricate an emotional story or even an entire organization – then trick people into donating. 

How to avoid this scam: 

  • Practice extreme caution before donating to any organization or crowdfunding site
  • Before donating to an organization you haven’t heard of, check with Charity Navigator or Give.org, which is the arm of the Better Business Bureau that evaluates non-profit organizations

Rental Listing Scams (Online)

These are incredibly heartless!

Scammers will pose as landlords and property owners who offer flood victims a place to stay quickly – in exchange for a down payment or deposit. You may find the listing online, or the fraudster will send you listings directly and say they got your information from a trusted source.

Unfortunately, victims who have had to flee their homes due to catastrophic damage will pay a downpayment out of desperation, only to find out that there was no property. The pictures were of some property far away, or the scammer didn’t actually have authority to rent it out. 

The victim’s money is gone, and the con artist will have blocked the victim and disappeared. 

How to avoid this scam: 

  • Never put a downpayment on a property that you have not seen and toured in person
  • Rent through a trusted rental app, and make payments through their protected payment system
Reporting scams can help protect others from falling victim to them.

How to Recognize Post-Disaster Scams 

Many of these scams have things in common that make them easier to recognize. Protect yourself from scams by knowing these important facts. 

  1. FEMA doesn’t charge an application fee. Anyone charging you money to qualify for FEMA funds is attempting to defraud you. 
  2. Before you pay a contractor, make sure to check their ID and license, and ask for proof of insurance. Get everything in writing. 
  3. If a contractor or insurance representative promises immediate clean-up and repair of your property, stop. They are likely making big promises to get your money, and then they will disappear. 
  4. Refuse to pay by wire transfer, gift card, cryptocurrency, or cash. These are the go-to methods of scammers. 
  5. Protect your personal information. Never give your bank account information, credit card info, or social security number to anyone who contacts you to provide services related to the flood. 

How flood victims can report disaster fraud

Natural disasters unfortunately bring out the worst in some people, who seek to take advantage of victims in their time of need. It’s important to stay vigilant and protect your personal information and money. Don’t let the urgency of the situation cause you to let your guard down.

The more these crimes get reported, the more likely it is that scammers will be caught and stopped.

FEMA fraud should be reported directly to FEMA. Report it to one of the following:

  • Email: [email protected]
  • Fax: (202) 212-4926
  • Mailing address: FEMA Fraud & Internal Investigation Division, 400 C Street SW Mal Stop 3005, Washington, DC 20472-3005

If you lost money or shared personal information with someone you believe was defrauding you, you should notify your local enforcement agency to file a report and receive further instructions.

You should also report fraudulent activity to the Federal Trade Commission. 

In difficult times like these, we see the best of humanity when strangers reach out to help one another. Be cautious, but not fearful. With awareness of the most common scams, we can prevent fraudsters from preying on flood victims and generous donors. If we look out for each other, there are always more good people in the world than bad.

Related Articles

All
  • All
  • Easy Prey Podcast
  • General Topics
  • Home Computing
  • IP Addresses
  • Networking Basics: Learn How Networks Work
  • Online Privacy
  • Online Safety
  • Uncategorized

The Hidden Risks of QR Codes

In today’s digital age, Quick Response (QR) codes have become a ubiquitous feature of modern life. From…

[Read More]
Kurt Long talks about balancing privacy vs. security in messaging and why it's so important.

Balancing Privacy vs. Security is the Key to Safer Online Messaging

If someone asked you if you want the messages you send and receive to be private, you’d…

[Read More]
Paige Hanson gives tips to protect yourself from financial fraud.

Financial Fraud Protection Tips You Can Use Today

Many of us have heard horror stories about the consequences of identity theft and various types of…

[Read More]
Leo Laporte talks about advances in tech and what we can expect in the future.

Advances in Tech and What They Mean for You

Technology has changed so much over the past few years. New tools and ways to use them…

[Read More]
Password Strength Meme

Password Tips: The ABCs of Protecting Your Bank Account.

Even though your account passwords seems like the basic place to start, cybersecurity experts say starting there...

[Read More]
Data Breaches from 2023

Data Breaches from 2023: A Close Look at the Important Ones

And what that means for you. To start with, the average person needs to be aware that…

[Read More]