Avoiding insurance scams after a disaster

February 19, 2021

Scams can be common after a major disaster. Learn about the various methods so that you can avoid them!

Signing a contract

Scams can be difficult to spot and avoid in the best of times. However, when you're in the middle of a disaster, or if you're dealing with the aftermath of a disaster, it can be difficult to keep your guard up; you may be in constant contact with friends and family, or busy speaking with insurance adjusters and contractors.  That provides the perfect opportunity for a scammer to try and slip by your defenses. 

Dealing with the fallout of a scam is the last thing you need when you're already handling damages after a disaster. To help you avoid such a scenario, we've put together this guide with common scams to look out for. 

Electronic, text, and phone scams during and after a disaster

Unfortunately, disasters present numerous opportunities for scammers to take action. Although electronic and phone scams are becoming increasingly common, they are especially dangerous during the confusion that follows a disaster. 

Scammers often pose as government agencies, charitable organizations, and even attempt to impersonate loved ones. They have an arsenal of schemes at their disposal and utilize a number of tactics to carry them out. 

Common electronic scam methods

Technology makes a scam cheap and easy to run. They may only work one out of every ten thousand tries, but that's all they need to encourage them. Let's review some of the common electronic scam methods you are likely to see during and after a disaster. 

Phishing. Phishing scams use fake emails to target their victims. By disguising themselves as a legitimate source, they attempt to steal sensitive personal information from you by encouraging a response, directing you to a malicious website, or by tricking you into downloading malicious attachments. 

Smshing. Smshing is similar to email phishing, but uses SMS text messaging rather than email messaging. Such messages might include links and attachments, both of which can be harmful. Again, the goal is usually to steal sensitive personal information, or to trick you into sending it to them by posing as a trusted or authoritative source. 

For more information about phishing and smshing scams, read our blog here. 

Robocalls or unsolicited phone calls.  While unsolicited phone calls have been a problem for a while, scammers use them more than ever because technology has made it incredibly easy and cheap to do so. With internet phone software, they can send out tens of thousands of robocalls, and are often able to disguise their number with a tactic called spoofing. 

Although the calls are usually automated, they usually try to have you press a button to speak to a "live operator," which is simply someone on the other line who is in on the scam. As always, they'll attempt to get you to give over information, such as bank account numbers or social security numbers, and may even try to have you send them money. 

For more information about robocalls and phone scams, read our blog here

Tips to help you avoid electronic and phone scams after a disaster

During the events surrounding a disaster, scammers know that people often come to expect a higher volume of texts, emails, and calls. You might be expecting calls from insurance agents, insurance adjusters, and contractors. However, you may also be on the lookout for calls from friends, family members, and neighbors who, for one reason or another, may be more likely to call or text you from a phone number you're not familiar with. 

In a normal situation, you may be wary of an influx of calls, texts, or emails, but during a disaster, it becomes par for the course. For that reason, it is more important than ever to be as cautious as possible.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can spot red flags and avoid falling prey to their scams. 

Guard your information. The best way to guard your sensitive personal information is to never give it out over the phone, through an email, on a website, or through a text. However,  you may occasionally have to give some information to verify your identity when you contact an organization, such as your bank or phone company. This should only be the case when you reach out to them; be especially wary when you are asked to give information when you did not initiate the call. 

Sometimes, scammers will contact you and claim that they are returning a phone call and then ask you to verify your identity with personal details. If you receive a call that claims to be returning your phone call, you can always hang up and call them back directly. 

Call directly. When in doubt, call the person or organization directly before divulging any information. Call the number listed on the company or organization's website, call the number on a business card, or the number listed on an official verified social media account. If they call you from a number that differs from the contact information you already have, hang up and call the number you know. 

Verify the source. Make sure you know that the sender is who they say they are. Look for strange email addresses and unfamiliar phone numbers. Don't rely on logos or email signatures that appear legitimate - they're easy to fake. 

Save contacts. When you are dealing with an abnormally large volume of calls, texts, and emails from a number of new sources, it can be easy for a scammer to appear legitimate. When you know that you'll be having ongoing discussions with a new person or organization, like a claims adjuster, save their name and number in your phone. This prevents any confusion and allows you to separate any new incoming calls. 

Don't respond. Whether it is an email or a text message, don't respond to a suspicious message. Again, reach out to them directly. 

Don't click. Links and attachments within texts and emails can and often are malicious. If you have not verified the sender, do not click any links provided or download any attachments. 

Be cautious and suspicious when: 

They speak with a sense of urgency. Scammers often speak with urgency so that you don't have time to think, or to make you believe the situation is dire. When listening to a call or reading a text or email, watch out for language that signals urgency, such as "please hurry," or "respond ASAP." 

Ask you to transfer or send money. Even if you are expecting a transaction at some point, be cautious when a suspicious or unknown source asks for a transfer, especially through digital wallet apps like Venmo and PayPal. If you receive a request for a money transfer from someone claiming to be a personal contact or legitimate organization, reach out to them directly to ensure they actually sent the request. 

Ask for sensitive information. Sometimes, you can spot a scam simply by questioning the type of information they're asking for. Although some organizations will ask you to verify certain pieces of information, they will never do so if they are initiating the conversation. You should be extremely cautious when anyone reaches out and asks you to divulge such information. 

Ask you to download an app. Many legitimate organizations may ask that you download an app. For example, a claims adjuster might have you download an app so that they can conduct a remote inspection. Before you download an app, make sure that you know and trust the person asking you to do so. Never download an app or program sent to you in a strange, suspicious, or unfamiliar text or email. 

If you are ever in doubt, hang up, delete the text, delete the email, and reach out to the organization directly. It is always better to be safe, and a legitimate organization will understand your caution. 

Remember, no organization, whether it is your insurance provider or a government entity, will contact you and ask for sensitive personal information, such as your bank account numbers, social security numbers, credit card numbers, account names, or passwords. 

Contractor scams

Although electronic scams are increasingly common during and after disasters, in-person scams, such as contractor scams, are common as well.

Contractor scams may become a common occurrence in neighborhoods that have sustained substantial damage during a disaster. They pose as contractors, roofers, plumbers, or whatever profession applies to the situation and promise to help the property owner fix the damages. While an honest contractor will follow through on this promise, a scammer has no intention of doing so. 

Sometimes, they leave the work incomplete after receiving payment. Some may perform an incredibly sub-standard job, cutting corners to maximize their profit. Yet in other situations, they simply take the money and run. In any case, at the end of the day, they have your money and your home is still in need of repairs. 

To make sure that you don't fall prey to one of these scams, make sure to watch out for contractors that do the following:
  • Show up unannounced to your home immediately following a disaster.

  • Don't have a physical business address.

  • Give extremely low or high estimates, or estimates that are otherwise wildly different than those of other contractors, or claim to offer special deals.

  • Insist that they handle the insurance claim, or insist that you use an public adjuster.

  • Insist that you endorse the insurance claim check to them.

  • Ask to be paid in full. While you may pay an initial deposit or portion of the total cost, you should not pay the full cost until the work is complete. Be extremely cautious if a contractor asks to be paid in full up front.

  • Attempt to pressure you to sign a contract before you've had a chance to speak with your insurance provider.

  • Pressure you into paying for temporary repairs. Temporary repairs are usually covered by your insurance on a case by case basis, so don't let a contractor pressure you into them before your insurance adjuster has investigated your case.
Of course, not all contractors are out to scam people! In fact, you're sure to need a good contractor to help restore your property to the way it was prior to the disaster. To find a trusted contractor, take the time to look into contractors and screen various companies for both their legitimacy and the quality of their work.
  • Talk to your neighbors or other locals for references.

  • Ask the contractor for references, and look into their past work.

  • Ask for their proof of insurance (for their business).
Remember, always contact your insurance provider to report a claim before you do anything else! Take plenty of pictures and videos of any and all damages - these will help you and your insurance adjuster in the coming days. 

Make sure to have your claims adjuster inspect your home and review contracts before you sign them. Contractors should work together with the adjuster to agree upon repair costs. Make sure that all repairs have been authorized and approved by the assigned adjuster before the contractor begins work.

Finally, if you are approached by a contractor, don't rush into signing contracts, making payments, are starting repairs - especially if your adjuster hasn't had a chance to inspect the damages. 

If you are a Germania Insurance policyholder and need to file a claim, you can do so online by clicking here, or by calling 877-437-6264. 

A scam involving an incoming call from an unknown phone number

When you're filing an insurance claim, chilly customer service just won't do! Since 1896, Germania Insurance has been the Insurance Texans Trust for great coverage and warm, friendly customer service.

For more information about our insurance products, visit our website today!

by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Specialist at Germania Insurance.