Devastating hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, fires, across many parts of the U.S. leave people vulnerable. Aging parents, often far away from family, are especially at risk. When disaster strikes, scammers see opportunity. The waters after Ian haven’t even receded, and ripoff artists are already scheming how to take advantage of people. They move fast. They can get to your loved ones while they are still dazed and feeling lost. Scammers see folks like that as a golden opportunity to get money. The Federal Trade Commission has issued a warning of what to watch for and how to avoid the opportunists who are targeting your aging loved ones and others.
The essence of some points the FTC cautions against are these things:
Clean-up and repair scams. Watch out for unlicensed contractors and scammers who appear with promises of quick repairs, clean-up, and debris removal. Some may demand upfront payment and not do the work, claim you’ll get a discount but quote outrageous prices, or lack needed skills. If your aging parents are not in the frame of mind to be suspicious of sudden offers of help, adult children can assist fending off scammers. If your elders or you want to hire anyone, do these things the FTC recommends:
- Check them out.Ask for IDs, licenses, proof of insurance, and references. Get all their contact information and match it with what you can see on the internet. Contractors’ licensing boards list licensees publicly on their websites.
- Get more than one estimate.In the aftermath of disaster, don’t go with the first person you find to fix things or clean up. Get another bid for the job. If you have neighbors who are contracting with anyone, find out about their experience with the workers.
- Never agree to any work without a written contract.Read it carefully. If all of it does not seem clear, get advice from a knowledgeable person about it before you sign anything.
- Never pay in cash.Upfront payments for materials are fairly standard but do not pay any final amounts due on a contract until all the work is totally finished and you are satisfied with the job. Always use a check, credit card or electronic form of payment that leaves a record.
- Spot imposters.This can be especially difficult for an elder with memory loss issues. The ability to distinguish something that “smells bad” from a legitimate offer of work erodes with folks who have memory loss. Supervise all transactions if you are a family with aging loved ones at risk for these scams.
- Be suspicious of anyone who claims to be a government official, safety inspector or utility worker who says immediate work is required. Insist on seeing IDs with government or company addresses on them. Thousands of people are affected by natural disasters and “immediate” work is not likely to be feasible or needed unless you ask for it yourself.
- Never give out personal information or money to someone just because they ask you for it. If anyone wants your financial information, like your bank account or credit card number, it’s a scam.
The aftermath of recent hurricane Ian will be lengthy and arduous. The time it takes to do all that is needed serves as opportunity for dishonest people to take full advantage of those who need help. For families of the many older people who are directly impacted, there is a need to protect loved ones from an even worse hit after losing so much. If you are wise and warn them, you can outsmart the thieves who love to prey ruthlessly on the vulnerable.