Inside: Protect yourself, your family, and your money after a disaster with this guide to avoid flood insurance scams. Sponsored by Rainbow International.
Disasters often bring out the best in a community, but sadly they can also bring out opportunists and scammers.
Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area in 2017, when record-breaking rainfalls led to catastrophic flooding across the entire city and surrounding suburbs.
Our family had a terrifying day when they released water from a large dam north of us, which rose up through the drains and sewers flooding our neighborhood. In a matter of two hours, the water had gone from mere puddles in our street to lapping at the foundation of our home. (Read our Hurricane Harvey story here)
We were fortunate that our house suffered only minor water damage, however, so many of our friends and neighbors lost everything they owned. Houses just a few blocks away from ours had to be completely gutted.
It was inspiring to see how the city of Houston pulled together to help one another through the recovery process. Millions of dollars were raised in a matter of days and people volunteered their time to help rip out sheetrock and rip up flooring to prepare to rebuild.
Unfortunately, scammers saw a massive opportunity to make a quick buck off unsuspecting flood victims. There were wide reports of flood insurance scams and people posing as contractors making off with payments intended to go towards repairs.
The last thing you want to worry about when you’ve experienced a natural disaster is being scammed out of your savings. That’s why I felt it was important to share this guide to protecting yourself from opportunists.
Types of Disaster Scams
The following are a few of the most common scams to watch out for after a major disaster:
- Premium Payment Scams — After Hurricane Harvey, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), warns consumers to be on the alert for suspicious-sounding robocalls asking for flood insurance payments. If you receive a call saying you’ll lose coverage unless you make a payment immediately by phone, DON’T DO IT. If you have any questions about your home or flood insurance, contact your insurance agent directly. In fact, it’s a good idea to check in with them before hurricane season to ensure that you are prepared.
- Contractor/Repair Scams — This was unfortunately common after Hurricane Harvey, where the scope of devastation meant that out-of-town contractors were needed to handle the volume of work. However, this also invited opportunists pretending to be contractors, hoping to cash in on the situation. They often ask for large deposits or money up front for repairs, without following through on the promised work.
- Disaster Grant Scams — Another popular deception is where someone promises to help flood victims obtain disaster aid or a grant. They may ask for payment up front for their services.
10 Tips to Avoid Insurance Scams
Immediately during and after a major flooding event, your primary concern should be your family’s safety. Following emergency updates, assessing your utilities (making sure it’s still safe to use gas, electricity, etc.), and securing clean drinking water are first steps.
Read This Next: What to Do After a Flash Flood
Once your family is safe and sound, you can turn your focus to the recovery process. However, scammers see flood victims (and their insurance money) as prime targets, so it’s important to be on high alert during this time.
Here’s what to watch out for and what to do to protect yourself from flood insurance scams:
- Call Insurance First — Consult your homeowners insurance agent before hiring an attorney or other adjuster. Your insurance agent can recommend quality service providers, such as Rainbow International. Learn more about water damage, fire damage, and mold restoration services from Rainbow International below.
- Shop Around — Never sign a contract immediately with a company. Do your research. Gather business cards and get written, detailed estimates for the job. Never make verbal contracts/agreements.
- Protect Your Personal Info — Don’t provide financial information over the phone or to anyone your don’t know. Government workers will never ask for a fee or payment and they always wear an official government photo ID, so always ask for identification.
- Keep Receipts and Records — Don’t throw anything away! Keep all receipts for any supplies or repairs you make personally, as well as any payments made to contractors. Take detailed notes on everything and any interaction you have. Be sure to include dates, times, names, and any other relevant information.
- Do a Background Check — Check out any contractors you’re considering hiring by asking for their license and proof of insurance.
- Follow Up — Before you agree to any repair work, make sure the contractor you’ve chosen is legitimate and credible. Call the Better Business Bureau to check out any claims a business makes about being “accredited” first. Look for reviews and references wherever possible.
- Hold Off on Deposits — Never give anyone a cash deposit for work to be done until you finalize the agreement. Avoid paying the entire amount upfront. Establish a payment schedule that you are comfortable with.
- Sleep On It — Take your time to research and avoid making quick, uninformed decisions. The repair process after a disaster can seem slow, but it is better to be cautious and protect your family and your finances.
- Do Your Research — Qualifications that homeowners should ask for include certificates from the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification, or IICRC, which ensures standards for cleaning and restoration work. These include certificates for water damage restoration technician (WRT) and applied structural drying technicians (ASD), who can work on mold, water damage and related issues.
- Be Wary of Strangers — After Harvey, it was common to see door-to-door salespeople offering reconstruction work, and more than a few were running insurance scams. Never agree to repair work on the spot, always do your research first, and don’t be scared into signing a contract. The best bet is to take down their information and say you’ll get back with them if interested.
Red Flag Alert: If anyone claims to be “FEMA approved” or “FEMA certified,” RUN away and don’t look back! Straight from the FEMA website: “FEMA does not endorse, approve, certify or recommend any contractors, individuals, firms or products. Contractors, individuals or firms shall not claim they or their products are ‘FEMA approved’ or ‘FEMA certified.’”
About Rainbow International, a Neighborly Company
Rainbow International is the nation’s leading residential and commercial restoration and cleaning service provider. Rainbow International offers a wide range of services to help get you back on your feet and back into your home after a disaster, including:
- Water Damage Restoration — Rainbow International’s proven system removes standing water and moisture to get your property back to normal as fast as possible.
- Fire Damage Restoration — Rainbow International will remove structural fire damage, as well as soot and smoke stains, restoring your home or business and getting it up to code quickly.
- Carpet Cleaning — Rainbow International’s six-step hot water extraction carpet cleaning process removes stubborn stains, odors and extends the lifetime of your carpet.
- Mold Removal — Rainbow International removes all traces of mold, so it stays gone for good. Their trained experts know the proper techniques for mold removal, so you can rest assured they’ll do the job right.
- Home Reconstruction — Rainbow International provides start-to-finish services to fully remediate your home or business, as well as secure your property during the process.
Choosing a licensed professional such as Rainbow International takes away the worry of rip-offs and scams, so you can focus instead on getting your life back to normal.
I recommend bookmarking their contact information, even if you have no repairs needed at the moment. As someone who’s lived through three hurricanes so far, I can tell you that things happen FAST and it’s better to be prepared just in case (and hopefully never need to use it!)
Be sure to print our hurricane preparedness checklist: