Common Post-Disaster Scams

After any disaster, there’s usually a second wave of problems that can occur in the form of what has become known as disaster fraud. People who want to contribute to the recovery are scammed by phony organizations, bogus emails, and fraudulent websites. And adding insult to injury, people who have suffered devastating home and property losses are often targeted by crooked contractors, fly-by-night home repair scammers, and identity thieves. That’s not all: in the months after a disaster, thousands of flood-damaged cars make their way to the market duping unwary consumers. (See our prior post: Consumer alert: don’t buy a flood-damaged car.)
Below, we’re including an excerpt from our EAP’s blog that offers useful links on common post-disaster charity and home repair scams. (For more resources, see their Hurricane Sandy Recovery Toolkit.
Sadly, there is no shortage of fraudulent opportunists willing to take advantage of people’s generous nature. Be particularly careful of solicitations via phone, email, or social networking sites. The FTC Warns Consumers: Charity and Home Repair Scams May Appear After a Disaster. See the FTC Charity Checklist to get tips on how to avoid scams. You can also check out more a charity in advance through the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance.
Disaster Recovery Scams – The FTC talks about common disaster recovery scams.
After a Disaster: Repairing Your Home – If your house has been damaged by a natural disaster, you may look for a reputable contractor to help with repair and restoration. Inevitably, the demand for qualified contractors after a disaster usually exceeds the supply. Enter the home repair rip-off artist, who may overcharge, perform shoddy work or skip town without finishing your job. This guide from the Federal Trade Commission the Federal Emergency Management Agency offers tips for consumers who may be facing major repairs after a disaster.
Disaster Fraud – The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud discusses post-disaster contractors and adjusters fraud.
Report Fraud: The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.

Hurricane Preparation: Tips from the Pros

The eastern seaboard is thick in preparation for Hurricane Earl’s arrival. Wayne Wiersma of Wiersma Insurance Agency offers a link to an excellent one-page sheet from the folks at Harleysville Insurance: Common Sense Advice: Before & After a Hurricane. It offers planning time lines for 36 and 24 hours before a hurricane, as well as advice on what to do after a hurricane and how to report a claim. (Please note, however, that phone numbers listed are only valid if for Harleysville customers. For all others, it would be a good idea to have phone numbers handy for both your agent and your homeowners’ and auto insurance companies. ) The Insurance Information Institute also offers Hurricane Preparation Tips.
Here are a few other helpful links:
The National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center
Hurricane Tracker
FEMA’s Hurricane Response & Recovery
FEMA’s Business Emergency Preparation Resources

Do you have tax deductible losses from storm damage, fire, or theft?

If you suffered unreimbursed losses of more than $500 due to severe storm damage, fire, theft, disaster, or loss on your deposits in 2008, you may qualify for a tax deduction. You must be able to document the extent of your loss and if you were compensated by your insurer, you must subtract the amount of compensation from your overall loss. A short clip from the Insurance Information Institute offers more information:

Kimberly Lankford of Kiplinger’s discusses storm-related tax deductions and points to a helpful casualty loss calculator.

Or you might go right to the source -the IRS provides a variety of publications and tools about available deductions. Here are a few:

Casualties, disasters and thefts – for use in preparing 2008 returns; explains the tax treatment of casualties, thefts and losses on deposits. A casualty occurs when your property is damaged as a result of a disaster such as a storm, fire, car accident or similar event. A theft occurs when somebody steals your property. A loss on deposits occurs when your financial institution becomes insolvent or bankrupt. This publication discusses definition of losses, how to figure the amount of your gain or loss, how to treat insurance and other reimbursements, deduction limits, and any special rules.

Tax relief in disaster situations – various resources and fact sheets

Disaster losses – PDF brochure from the IRS

2008 – federally declared disasters and emergencies

Preparing for catastrophes

With the anticipated landfall of Gustav, we’re thick into hurricane season, which continues through November 30. Homeowners in the hurricane belt here in the U.S. are preparing for what is expected to be an active September and October. Disaster relief organizations such as the Red Cross offer hurricane preparation advice, with information about a personal evacuation plan, including supplies that should be part of your emergency kit.
A few preparatory steps can also make filing insurance claims after the storm an easier process. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) offers a special disaster preparedness section of their website, along with a one page tip sheet on Storm Preparedness: A Four–Step Process . Among their recommendations:

  • Review your insurance coverage in advance to understand what your insurance policy covers and what it excludes.
  • Take an inventory of your property – photos or videos can be helpful. They suggest storing photos on the web or with a relative.
  • Move all of your important documents to a safe location. Take them with you if you evacuate. Be sure to include the name of your insurance companies and agent, policy numbers and contact information.

And should your home or property suffer damage, NAIC’s guide to What Consumers Should Know When Faced with A Loss can also be very helpful.