Beware of scammers after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria

After every natural disaster, scammers and fraudsters try to make a quick buck from other’s misfortune and donor’s good will.

Making donations to help those in need is a natural reaction in the wake of the recent hurricane disasters for those of us who were not affected. Even if we were affected, the instinct to help is strong. Unfortunately, it also opens the door for scammers to capitalize on someone else’s misfortune. Con artists will always try to find a way to make a quick dollar.

There are multiple ways to donate to legitimate agencies that help recent hurricane victims. Before donating, it’s important to do your homework to ensure that any funds or goods being donated will make it to the intended recipient. The American Red Cross is the lead agency administering direct aid to families affected by the hurricanes and it’s possible to specify which natural disaster area to donate to through its website. The Federal Trade Commission has set up an online site specifically to find valid charities for the recent hurricane victims. You can also check out a charity using the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator or Charity Watch. Any of these sites have fully vetted registered charities to make sure they are legitimate.

After the immediate emergency assistance phase has passed, more clean-up will be underway as residents begin to rebuild. The Federal Trade Commission warns against unlicensed contractors and scammers who demand up-front payment for services never delivered. This is especially a problem in areas where power or internet service hasn’t been restored. Make sure to ask for contractor licenses and references before handing over payment and avoid paying with cash, if possible. Get the contact information of the contractor and beware of unsolicited offers of assistance.

If anyone is offering to help you complete forms or asking for your personal information and promising to help you for a fee, this is not an authentic company or service. If someone is offering to assist with forms, loans or clean up, make sure to ask for ID so that you can contact their agency to confirm they work there. No government official will ask for payment or banking information. You can apply for aid for no fee by calling 1-800-621-3362 or through FEMA directly at http://www.disasterassistance.gov/. Keep in mind during this is a time of upheaval that there are many agencies and people who really want to help. Make sure that is who you’re dealing with and not someone out to make a quick buck at your expense.

Michigan State University Extension offers financial literacy and homeownership workshops throughout the year to help you become financially healthy. For more information of classes in your area, go to either http://msue.anr.msu.edu/events or www.mimoneyhealth.org. Additionally, you can take the Financial Health Survey at MI Money Health to access if you’re financially healthy and discover more ways you can improve your financial health.

Michigan State University Extension has released a new toolkit for homeowners who are experiencing or have previously experienced foreclosure. This toolkit will equip these individuals and families with tools to help them recover their financial stability, in the case that a recovery of their home is not possible. The toolkit is available to download free at MIMoneyHealth.org.

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