In the days after Hurricane Matthew, our neighbors throughout the Lowcountry are looking forward to getting back to their homes and back to normal. Unfortunately, residents are often subject to scammers in the wake of a hurricane. From fake fundraisers to contractor con-artists, scams seek to play on vulnerability during difficult times. Below are some tips on how to identify scams and avoid them.
- Virus-Containing Emails
Governor Nikki Haley addressed this issue already after state officials learned of a cyber security threat involving emails about power outages and hurricane updates. “People will start receiving emails and they will tell you they have updates on outages and if you want to know the update on outages, click here,” she said. “Once you click there, they get into your computer.” Be wary of any unfamiliar sites or services.
General Rules to Follow for Cyber Threats
- Do not reply to an e-mail, text or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information.
- Do not click on any links in an email or text message or cut and paste the link into your browser.
- Do not call a phone number contained in the e-mail or text.
- Verify the validity of the communication by contacting the organization directly, with contact information that you’ve found in the phone book or by going to the company’s website.
- Use antivirus or anti-spyware software and a firewall. Make sure to update them regularly. Phishing emails may contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the internet.
- Phony Relief Efforts
With the vast majority of people doing what they can to help for all the right reasons, some are just out to help themselves. Scammers may solicit you to donate money to help with hurricane relief efforts and then walk off with your cash or bank information.
The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs suggests that you: 1) Seek out charities that need your help; 2) Donate to well-known charities; and 3) Donate with checks or credit cards for both security and tax purposes.
- Shady Contractors
Scammers may show up offering great prices on contract work. The people may be unlicensed to do the work or just looking to take your money and run. There even have been reports of a tree-removal company saying they are affiliated with Hargray. They are not. Price gouging is another scam common after a hurricane, so make sure to get estimates from multiple vendors.
Make sure you research and get references from people you trust before agreeing to or paying for any work. Verify the information they provide including the contractor’s ID with full name, business location and phone number. You can even ask to see their license or permit from the state, county or city. Never pay in full up front, and consider paying with credit card or a check made out to the business.
Sources: South Carolina Emergency Management Division, South Carolina Department of Community Affairs