Con Artists Love a Major Disaster
By Maria Greene, APS TARC Team Member, and Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery expert for people with access and functional needs & André Feijóo, MPA, CSPO, APS TARC Team Member & Liaison to the five major U.S. Territories
Older adults and adults with disabilities are prime targets of con artists after a major disaster. Government warnings prior to natural disasters - such as hurricanes, flooding, and tornadoes, or man-made disasters such as chemical spills and wildfires - provide guidance on the safety of people, animals, and property. After the disaster, emergency officials perform search and rescue efforts and secure the impacted area. The recovery period, after the disaster has occurred, is the optimal time for con artists to strike. The following provides information and links to guide you in informing people, investigating reports of exploitation, and working with community-based organizations in emergency planning efforts.
Beat the Con Artists at Their Own Games
APS intake or call center staff accept reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation and often provide a great deal of information and assistance to callers. Helping people to understand the usual tactics of a con artist may save them from being financially exploited.
Make sure your clients/victims understand these helpful tips:
- Never provide the following to unfamiliar people:
- Checking, savings or other bank account numbers
- Medicare or Medicaid numbers
- Credit card numbers
- Insurance identification
- Don’t answer calls from unknown people/numbers.
- Don’t open your door to people you do not know. People acting in official capacities will show a valid form of identification.
- Don’t give cash, checks, or credit card numbers to unfamiliar charitable groups.
- It is okay to hang up on callers you do not know or recognize.
Depending upon your state APS statutes and policies, you may or may not be directly involved in investigating financial exploitation cases. However, all APS programs can refer alleged financial exploitation cases to other agencies. The following information is a resource for organizations to refer to regarding typical scams occurring after a disaster.
Partners and Referral Sources
On-site home repair scams:
- Verify if the contractor has a local business license. Report scam to the appropriate city/county/state business license office.
- Check the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker and report scams.
- Check the validity of the organization soliciting funds for disaster victims with the Federal Trade Commission.
FEMA disaster assistance/insurance claim filing fraud:
- Verify if the client is a renter or owns their home. If they are renters, check with the landlord. If they own their home, inquire about their home insurance provider and check with the insurance carrier.
- Contact State Insurance Commissioner to file a complaint.
- Read more about FEMA related Disaster Recovery Centers information.
- Timely referral to local law enforcement: If perpetrators of fraud are still in the community, notify law enforcement as soon as possible. It may be possible to recover some of the stolen property or money and reduce further victimization.
Working with Community Based Organizations
If your APS program is a part of a Community Based Organization (CBOs) or partners often with other CBOs, you may find a toolkit helpful for emergency planning for vulnerable adults on the National Association of County & City Health Officials website.
Tips to help older adults, adults with disabilities and their caregivers prepare for disasters.
Before a disaster:
- Create a communication plan.
- Make a medical plan.
- Get connected to local information.
- Create emergency kits.
- Don’t forget your pets.
During a disaster:
- Pay attention to evacuation warnings.
- If evacuation is not possible, shelter in place and keep your emergency kit nearby. Include a hand-crank radio in case of power outages.
- If you can evacuate, secure your home, and leave a note on the outside of your home to let first responders know whether you were able to evacuate.
After a disaster:
- The Emergency Prescription Assistance Program, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, helps people in federally-identified disaster areas who do not have health insurance get prescription drugs, vaccinations, medical supplies, and equipment that they need.
- The Disaster Assistance Improvement Program provides disaster survivors with information, support, services, and a means to access and apply for disaster assistance.
Other: The website www.ready.gov is a national public service campaign of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to educate and empower the American people to prepare for, respond to and mitigate emergencies, including natural and man-made disasters.