ATLANTA– Attorney General Chris Carr is warning consumers to be on the lookout for scams in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Seeing or hearing about the devastation caused by a natural disaster evokes our sympathies and our desire to help those affected. Unfortunately, scammers realize this and do not hesitate to take advantage of people’s heightened emotions. They may pose as reputable charities soliciting donations and target consumers through unsolicited emails, telemarketing calls or by knocking on their doors. They often create legitimate-looking websites that have similar names as actual charities, sometimes even using the actual logo of a reputable relief organization. To make sure you are donating to a legitimate charity, our office recommends the following tips:
• Don’t respond to unsolicited emails and avoid clicking on any links they contain. Only open attachments from senders you know and trust.
• Don’t give out money over the phone unless you have initiated the call and are confident that the charity is legitimate.
• Look up the actual website of the charity you want to donate to rather than trusting a link from an email or pop-up ad.
• Note that legitimate charities’ websites typically end in .org, not .com
• Be cautious of crowdfunding sites. Since some crowdfunding sites do little to vet people who post for assistance after a disaster, be extra diligent about donating this way. The Better Business Bureau warns that some individuals posting for donations may not have any official connection to a charitable organization or could be using names and photos of victims without their families’ permission.
Home Repair Fraud
Following a weather-related emergency, scammers often show up offering to help with tree removal and home repair work. Our office advises consumers to do business with local firms that are well-established and whose references can be checked. Do not give individuals money up-front based upon the promise that they will be back to do the work. In addition, we suggest the following before hiring someone to do home repairs:
• Ask friends, neighbors and coworkers for referrals.
• Check with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) to see if there are any complaints against the business.
• Make sure that general contractors, electricians, plumbers and heating and air conditioning contractors are licensed. You can verify this on the Secretary of State’s website: www.sos.georgia.gov. Note that certain specialty occupations such as roofers, painters, drywall contractors and repair handymen are not required to be licensed by the state.
• Get written bids from several contractors. Be skeptical if the bid is too low. Cheaper is not necessarily better. Ask for references and check them out.
• Always insist on a written contract for work to be performed, with all guarantees, warranties and promises in writing.
• Ask to see proof of insurance (personal liability, workers’ compensation and property damage).
• Never pay for the entire project before the work begins. A small payment may be due up-front, but don’t pay in full until the project has been completed to your satisfaction.
• Paying with a credit card instead of cash will give you more protections against fraud.
Scammers may also try to steal your money by posing as a representative from an insurance company, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Small Business Association (SBA) or law enforcement. Don’t give out personal or financial information to someone you don’t know. Remember that the services offered by FEMA and SBA are free, so if a “representative” asks you for payment, it’s a scam.