As wildfires burn across eastern Washington, scammers are preying on disaster victims. If you need a place to stay, if you’re looking for a contractor to fix your damaged property, or if you’re trying to donate to help those in need—make sure it’s legit. Older adults in particular are often targeted by these scams.
Here are some strategies for avoiding common post-disaster scams:
- Do extra research. Before you pay for housing, cleanup, or another emergency service, ask for IDs, licenses, and proof of insurance. Google the company and check out its social media accounts, Yelp reviews, and Google Business page. Does it have decent reviews? Is it a real business?
- Don’t believe any promises that aren’t in writing. Waiting for the proper paperwork is always worth the wait.
- Never make the final payment until the work is done. Only when you’re satisfied with the job should you pay the last invoice.
- Never pay by wire transfer, gift card, or cash. If someone you know sends you an email asking for payment by one of these methods, they’ve likely been hacked. Contact them a different way (phone, text, social media, in person, etc) and ask what’s going on. They likely aren’t aware of the hack, and reaching out could save you and them both a world of difficulty.
- Watch out for of anyone promising “immediate clean-up,” repair, and/or debris removal. It can difficult to find a reliable contractor in the wake of a disaster, as everyone in the community is looking for the same services. However, it’s better to do your research and wait until you can hire someone reputable than to fall prey to an imposter who offers a too-good-to-be-true price or turnaround time, requires upfront payment, or is sloughing subpar services.
- FEMA doesn’t charge application fees. If someone says you need to pay them to help you qualify for FEMA funds—it’s a scam.
- Protect your personal information. Don’t give out your Social Security number or bank account info unless you know for certain everything is in order. Scammers will sometimes impersonate government officials and then demand money or your credit card, bank account, or SSN. A real government official won’t do that. If anything feels fishy, ask for ID.
- Be wary of rental scams. Housing transactions (renting, buying, and selling) are already fraught with scams trying to get you to wire money, and even more so after a disaster. Avoid anyone who tells you to wire money, as well as anyone who asks you to pay a security deposits or rent before you’ve met them or signed a lease. And always get it in writing!
- Be wise to disaster-related charity scams. After a crisis, scammers inevitably try to make a quick buck by preying on good intentions.
If you’re in doubt, talk to us. We spend a huge part of our time working with contractors, renters, and charities—we can spot the difference between a scam and the real deal.