August 19, 2020
Tagged As: Personal
Last week’s derecho storm left thousands of homes damaged and more than half a million people without power across the state of Iowa. However, as those in the storm’s wake are figuring out how to repair the damage and restore their homes, scammers and fraudsters could be gearing up to take advantage of the situation. Here’s what you need to know to help protect yourself and your finances.
Beware of “storm chasers”
Iowa’s Attorney General has issued a warning to Iowans cleaning up from the storm: be wary of “contractors” who show up at your door to provide storm cleanup unsolicited. These individuals may be “storm chasers” who come from other areas to take advantage of those left vulnerable from storm damage and stress. If possible, try to do research beforehand on a reputable local company to be sure you not only get the service you’re paying for, but also supporting local businesses in the recovery effort. Check out the attorney general’s press release for many more tips on choosing a contractor for storm cleanup.
How to find reputable storm cleanup and home repair assistance
There are a number of local resources that can help you make the right choice and provide helpful tips, including:
Food assistance is available – from a reputable source
After hours and days without power, the food in your fridge and freezer likely needs to be thrown away. The state of Iowa offers food replacement assistance to households that currently receive Food Assistance, such as in the form of an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. If this applies to you, you can visit the Iowa Department of Human Services website for more information.
There are also community organizations dedicated to helping those facing food insecurity, such as CommUnity of Johnson County and the Linn Community Food Bank in Cedar Rapids. But charitable organizations like these do not need your personal financial information to provide assistance. If someone is offering to replace your food for a fee, you should be wary.
False charity solicitation
After natural disasters such as these, some take advantage of public goodwill by soliciting money for “disaster relief” – which goes directly into the solicitor’s pockets. They might ask for large donations in order to buy supplies and equipment, but are hard to track down. That’s why the best way to avoid charity-based scams is to do your research beforehand. Know the reputation and history of the organization you plan to give to, and you can make sure your money goes where it should.
It’s also a good idea to use secure online payment methods to donate to an organization directly, rather than cash, wire transfers, or checks made out to individuals.
After previous natural disasters in the U.S., there have been reports of scammers approaching homeowners with damaged property and offering to work directly with their insurance company to waive deductibles. And like most things that sound too good to be true – that offer is. After getting the homeowner to sign paperwork, the scammers can actually collect insurance payments meant for the property owner. This type of scam is also common with situations that involve automobile insurance, such as windshield repair.
Home Inspection Fraud
Like other unsolicited offers, if a “home inspector” shows up at your house to survey damage, you should be immediately wary. Sometimes, these fraudsters will ask for payment up front to perform the solicitation. Other times, the “inspection” is actually a pretense to find security vulnerabilities or unsecured valuables to steal.
There have been reports of card skimmers (unauthorized attachments to credit- and debit-card scanners that steal customer data) in Eastern Iowa over the past several years. In the wake of a storm, when many people are understandably preoccupied and in a rush to get gas and supplies, the risk posed by card skimmers could be even greater. Stay vigilant! Be sure to check to see if the card reader looks unusual compared to others (such as at a gas pump), and that it does not wiggle around when you grab it.
If you receive an email, friend request, or message out of the blue offering assistance, it could be a scam. Scammers might pretend to be a representative of a relevant organization (such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA), and ask for personal information or a financial contribution before moving forward. If you receive a communication that appears to be from a legitimate organization, it’s best to reach out to them directly to confirm its authenticity.
If you believe you may have been targeted by fraud or a scam, or have a question about a message that appears to come from Hills Bank, please reach out to us at any of our 19 locations, through the HERE by Hills Bank app, or over the phone. Our Customer Contact Center is available seven days a week by calling 1-800-445-5725 (1-800-HILLSBK)
Hills Bank Customer Contact Center hours:
- Monday - Friday 7 a.m. - 5 p.m.
- Saturday 8 a.m. - 12 p.m. (noon)
After Hours Call Center hours:
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- Saturday 12 p.m. (noon) - 5 p.m.
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