AARP Pennsylvania Shares Tips to Avoid Scams After Natural Disasters

PENNSYLVANIA — As communities band together to support those affected by natural disasters, AARP Pennsylvania remains vigilant against opportunistic scammers seeking to exploit vulnerabilities. Recognizing the need for awareness, AARP Pennsylvania is equipping residents with some tips to safeguard themselves from disaster-related scams.

In the years since its inception in 2005, the U.S. Justice Department’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) has logged over 95,000 complaints tied to more than 100 events, spanning hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornadoes, earthquakes, explosions, and chemical spills. Tragedies often pave the way for scams targeting the susceptible and those grappling to rebuild their lives.

Dubious contractors, colloquially dubbed “storm chasers,” frequently descend upon regions impacted by natural events, offering speedy and inexpensive remedies for ravaged homes and businesses. However, some of these contractors overcharge for substandard work, leaving property owners to grapple with shoddy repairs. Mary Bach, Chair of AARP Pennsylvania’s Consumer Issues Task Force, emphasized, “During trying times, it’s imperative to stay cautious and prudent when considering contractors. Scammers prey on chaos to exploit the unsuspecting.”

Another prevalent post-disaster swindle involves imposters posing as representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or other governmental entities. These imposters promise to expedite insurance claims, secure grants, or streamline building permits—all contingent on upfront payments. David Kalinoski, Associate State Director of Community Outreach at AARP Pennsylvania, asserted, “Official government agencies never demand payment for their services. It’s crucial to verify such claims before divulging personal information or releasing funds.”

In conjunction with contractor-related scams, natural disasters usher in a surge of fraudulent charities soliciting donations for relief endeavors. These deceitful organizations often mirror the names or websites of reputable aid groups to deceive potential donors. AARP Pennsylvania advises individuals to thoroughly scrutinize charities before contributing to ensure that their donations genuinely bolster relief efforts.

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To bolster protection against these scams, AARP Pennsylvania offers these five tips:

  1. Thoroughly Vet Contractors: Before enlisting a contractor, verify their credentials, consult their Better Business Bureau profile, and ensure they possess proper licensing and insurance.
  2. Request Detailed Estimates: Prior to commencing repair work, obtain comprehensive written estimates, meticulously review contracts before signing, and retain copies of all documentation.
  3. Validate Insurance Coverage: Confirm with your insurance provider whether repairs are covered prior to undertaking them.
  4. Authenticate FEMA Representatives: Ask for official identification from individuals claiming to represent FEMA. Confirm their identity by contacting the FEMA Helpline.
  5. Donate Prudently: Direct donations toward established charities with a proven track record in disaster relief efforts. Leverage resources like Charity NavigatorCharityWatch, and BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance to authenticate organizations.

Report scams to local law enforcement. For help from AARP, call 1-877-908-3360 or visit the AARP Fraud Watch Network at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.

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