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How do I recognize and prevent against fraud after a natural disaster?

While many people pull together during times of crisis, there is also an increased risk for scams and fraud. To avoid scams, you need to ask questions—lots of them. Questions will help you determine if something is too good to be true. If the person trying to sell you a product or service can’t or won’t answer your questions or if what is in the paperwork does not match the promises made to you, these are red flags and you might want to look for someone else.

Recognizing the tricks that scammers use, and the effects they have on us, can help you spot scams easier. Asking questions puts you back in control and puts any crooks on the spot.

Don’t necessarily trust titles and uniforms that can be faked. Con artists may pose as government employees, insurance adjusters, law enforcement officials, bank employees, or whoever it takes to get to your money. Titles and uniforms can be easily faked. Always ask for identification, and call the organization and ask if the person works for them. Never give personal information to anyone you don’t know. Also remember that government employees will never ask you for financial information such as your bank account number.

One common scam is fake charities. These scams use names that are similar to organizations you may be familiar with to get you to make a “donation.” But your money ends up in the scammer’s pocket. Never make donations when you are contacted over the phone. Make sure you get the organization’s name and contact information and review written materials closely.

Don’t fall for “limited time only” offers. Scarcity is common in disasters. But don’t let it get the better of you. Be suspicious of contractors or others offering to move you to the front of the line. Also beware of people offering “opportunities” that try to force you to make a snap decision. You should never make a decision under pressure. Take your time. Never sign anything without fully reading and understanding it first. And if necessary, ask a trusted relative, friend, or attorney for a second opinion before acting.

Be careful of mortgage scams. Most lenders will work with homeowners after a natural disaster and offer forbearance or some other form of loss mitigation assistance. Scammers often approach homeowners offering assistance to negotiate postponement of payments after a natural disaster. Consumers should contact their mortgage servicer for payment assistance and never pay anyone to negotiate with their servicer on their behalf.

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