While Hurricane Irma has passed, the pain she inflicted is still a day to day struggle for South Florida. If you are lucky, all you have to complain about is the heat and mosquitos due to lack of power and open windows. Many of us have fences to repair, roof damage to assess, lots of fallen trees, branches, leaves and debris to clean up. Some of us have even suffered devastating damage. As we all recover from the effects of Hurricane Irma there’s one more thing you need to have on your mind…beware of Fraudsters. They are out there and they are looking for you. Well, they WERE looking for you because, after these few pointers, you will be armed with valuable information to prevent you from becoming a victim.
Let’s start with home repairs.
Many of us have sustained damage to our homes and with long wait times for contractors to come out to provide estimates and start working, desperation may start to set in. Be patient and diligent about researching who you let work on your home. Use local companies that you've used in the past. If you don’t have a reliable contractor you have worked with before, ask your friends and family or even your insurer for recommendations. It’s best if you get more than one estimate to be sure you aren’t being overcharged. Don’t feel pressured to sign a repair contract before you’ve had a chance to do your research including checking with the Better Business Bureau to make sure your contractor is licensed. And definitely, don't pay cash or write a check up front. We’ve all heard the horror stories of shady contractors taking off with people’s money. Instead, pay in installments and wait until the repair work is completed to make the final payment. Also be aware of insurance scams, for example, there is no such thing as a FEMA “inspector” fee. When in doubt, call your insurance company directly and ask.
Need a good deal on a car? Not so fast!
Be wary of car fraud, too. It’s not uncommon for not so nice people to fix up flood-damaged vehicles and re-sell them as if they are good as new. Fortunately, you have a few options to ensure you don’t become a victim:
1) The first is CarFax or AutoCheck. These are both reputable sources for vehicle data, but sometimes titles are "washed" through multiple states and these services may miss some vehicles. They are NOT foolproof but can help identify some issues.
2) The National Insurance Crime Bureau, (nicb.org), has a wonderful tool that allows anyone to enter a VIN to see if it has been reported as an unrecovered stolen or salvage vehicle. The exact link to their FREE VINCheck feature is: https://www.nicb.org/theft_and_fraud_awareness/vincheck
3) If both of these come back negative, we must also depend on good common sense. If a deal looks "too good to be true" take the vehicle to be inspected by a reputable mechanic. Also, make sure to check the spare tire wheel well for rust. If rust is present, there’s a chance the vehicle was submerged!
4) Your final line of defense TFCU’s Auto Advisors. All the dealers we work with stand by their vehicles and the chances of one of our reputable franchised dealers offering a flood damaged vehicle is slim to none.
Protect your home but also protect your mail and personal information.
There are many damaged mailboxes and people walking in and out of our homes as we go through the repair process. Check your mailbox daily. Be sure you have all your personal information, which could be used by a fraudster to steal your identity, locked away. This includes account statements, bills, insurance documents, medical records, really anything with information that could help someone pretend they are you.
Beware of uncharitable organizations
As we watch the news and hear stories of people in our community suffering, it’s natural to want to help and we should! But after a disaster there is always fraud involving fake charities that are set up to collect money and donations, some even set up fake websites. Do your research and be sure you are donating to real charities.
If you suspect fraud connected to a natural disaster, you can call the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721, or email the organization at email@example.com. The center serves as a national clearinghouse and refers cases to the proper law enforcement agency anywhere in the country.
Worried about Equifax?
Last week, Equifax announced that it suffered a data breach back in July and as many as 143 million US consumers are impacted. This means your personal information may be in the hands of fraudsters so it is important that you check and see if you were one of the millions whose data has been compromised and that if you are, you monitor your credit closely. Due to the data breach, Equifax is offering free credit monitoring for those impacted. You can find out if you are one of the consumers impacted, at www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. We have prepared this short video with more information and instructions on what to do.