This past week, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc up and down the Eastern seaboard as it collided with other weather systems to create a “super storm”. The combined effects of winter weather and a tropical system so late in the hurricane season created almost unprecedented levels of devastation, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. With damage estimates reaching into the billions, relief organizations are already on the ground helping those hardest-hit by Sandy. While charities reach out to those most in need, businesses and homeowners have begun the difficult process of clean-up and repair. BBB, Wise Giving Alliance, and the Federal Trade Commission have issued press releases warning Americans about home repair and charity scams that invariable follow in the wake of a natural disaster.
Scam artists posing as contractors, often referred to as “storm chasers”, are typically en route to affected areas before storms even make landfall. When the given weather event has passed, storm chasers are on the scene and ready to take advantage of people anxious to remove trees and debris, have their homes and businesses repaired, or deal with flood damage. Both BBB and FTC advise consumers to be cautious when dealing with emergency repairs. Checking a contractor’s licensing and references, dealing with reputable local firms, and not making an unnecessarily-large payment in advance are all ways to avoid a storm repair scam. Also, be aware of your insurance coverage and you carrier’s policies and procedures before entering into a contract. BBB’s local and national reports provide a wealth of information.
Wise Giving and FTC encourage donors to verify details about any relief organization before making donations. Another recommendation is to be wary of online donations, especially those solicited through unsolicited emails. If you are interested in donating to a relief organization online, go directly to their website rather than responding to what could be an email fraudulently using the name of a reputable charity. Wise Giving reminds donors, among other things, to find out if an organization is providing direct aid or acting as a pass-through organization. A gift directly to a charity with a presence in the affected area may help bring relief to victims more quickly. Also, carefully consider requests for in-kind donations of food and clothing. Before donating goods, ask the organization about their transportation and distribution capabilities. Food and clothing are always desperately needed after wide-spread flooding and electrical outages, and are most effective when an organization is adequately prepared to distribute them.
The full Wise Giving Alliance, BBB, and Federal Trade Commission Hurricane Sandy press releases include additional information and tips. As always, check out BBB’s national and local charity reports and business reviews, as well as the giving and repair tips available on our website when considering any donation or repair. Relief will be desperately needed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy; appeals will be coming from reputable, well-equipped charities, and from scam artists posing as such. Please use our Charity Information Service to research charities and relief organizations and verify that they are Accredited by BBB and meet the 20 Standards for Charity Accountability. Our BBB’s Accredited Business Directory will direct you to established local businesses who have committed to upholding the highest standards of ethics. Like a natural disaster, charity scams and storm chasers appear quickly, and the extent of their damage is only evident after they have moved on. BBB’s resources, made possible by your Accreditation, can help you avoid falling victim.