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

In times of crisis most Americans pull together. But some people may try to rip you off. Frauds take many shapes, but the con artists often use a handful of common tricks to manipulate our emotions. It is hardest to make rational decisions when emotions run high. 

Recognizing the tricks that con artists use, and the effects they have on us, can help you spot scams easier. The best way to avoid scams is to ask questions, lots of them. Asking questions puts you back in control and puts any crooks on the spot.

Avoid over-confidence. The first thing to remember is that most con artists are professionals. Anyone can be victimized by fraud. The problem is that most of us believe it will never happen to us. The more overconfident we are, research shows, the more susceptible we are to fraud. The best way to avoid over-confidence is to always be on the lookout for fraud, especially immediately after a disaster or other times of financial stress.

Don’t give credibility to titles and uniforms that can be faked. Con artists will often pose as government employees, insurance adjusters, law enforcement officials, bank employees, or whatever it takes to get to your money. Credibility can be easily faked. Always ask for identification. And never give personal information to anyone you don’t know. Also remember that government employees will never ask you for financial information or request payment of any kind.

Another common credibility scam is fake charities. These cons use names that are similar to national organizations to get you to make a “donation.” But your money ends up in their pocket. Never make donations 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 “opportunities” that 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.

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