When Hurricane Sandy swept up the East Coast, it left billions of dollars of devastation in its wake. After any disaster, many people come forward to help the victims. Unfortunately, however, these emergencies also bring out con artists who seek to exploit the situation using illegal scams. To help you avoid being conned whenever a disaster strikes, your local CPA recommends taking these steps.
Protect Your Personal Information
When you donate, a legitimate charity should not need confidential data such as your Social Security number, your credit card or bank account numbers, or any of your PINs or passwords. If you are the victim of a disaster, don’t give your personal information to someone who contacts you and claims to be working for a federal agency, such as FEMA or the IRS. Instead, call the agency to verify that the request is legitimate.
Don’t Pay a Fee for Assistance
After a disaster, people tend to come out of the woodwork insisting they can provide a vital service for a fee. With that in mind, be aware that organizations such as FEMA or the Red Cross will help you complete any required forms, so there’s no need to pay anyone who claims they can help you fill out or expedite any disaster assistance forms. Similarly, it should not be necessary to pay someone for help in applying for federal grants or loans for which you qualify. Finally, if your property has been damaged and someone arrives at your door claiming they need to inspect the building, ask for identification and call the agency they claim to represent.
Don’t Give In to Price Gouging
Some unscrupulous companies hike their prices after an emergency when people have an urgent need for their products or services. If you are quoted a price that doesn’t seem fair, contact your local police or state attorney general. It’s important to keep these price gougers out of the market so that everyone gets a fair price.
Donate to Recognized Charities
From a local volunteer ambulance service to the American Red Cross, there are many organizations, large and small, that can be relied on to put donations to their intended use. But during an emergency, scammers often create bogus charities designed to do little more than line their own pockets. For that reason, it’s a good idea to restrict your giving to groups with which you are familiar.
Turn to Your Local CPA
Whether you have been the victim of a disaster or would like to protect yourself financially against a potential disaster, your local CPA can help. Turn to him or her for advice on any of your financial questions or concerns.