While there have been many examples of people going above and beyond to help the victims of the Fort McMurray fire it is important to remember that not everyone is so selfless. Unfortunately in the aftermath of every major disaster bad people will take advantage of those who lost everything and those who want to help.
Here are a few examples of fraudulent activity that you may encounter:
- charging for free services
- tacking on additional fees
- unfulfilled promises or work left undone
- keeping a high percentage (or all) of donations
- phishing: stealing financial information or committing identity theft
- viruses and trojans (attached to downloads supposedly about the emergency)
- using the disaster to sell an unrelated product
- unfair loans/interest fees
- special short term lending to victims
- phoney inspectors
- damaged/stolen items being resold
These can come in the form of individuals or companies posing as legitimate agencies charities or contractors. Some people may also pose as a victim or family member of a victim and ask for donations.
The best way to avoid falling for any of these scams is to do your research .
Here are some specific things you can do:
Check with your insurance company.Find out what is covered and what you need to do. They will have informed individuals to help you through this difficult time.
Many insurance companies have a list of preferred vendors such as contractors and inspectors whose work they will guarantee. While you are not required to use those vendors it is highly recommended. Be sure to check what will be covered under your policy and if there is anything you need to do to ensure you’re covered during the rebuilding process.
Check the legitimacy of charities. A good charity shouldn’t spend more than 25% of their monetary donations on fundraising and administrative fees. You can check this information atCharity Navigatoror with theBetter Business Bureau. Alternatively there is often an approved or official list of charities provided by the government or disaster management centre.
Ask for references and check for licenses. Verify all credentials. Any legitimate business will have proper licensing and will have references available. They should also have insurance — especially in the case of contractors! Don’t forget to find your own reviews by googling the company and looking it up on theBetter Business Bureau’s website.
Get estimates and have everything in writing. All work should be outlined with an estimated cost. Make it clear you will not pay for additional work unless it is in writing. Be sure to verify that the materials and work listed in the estimate match what is actually done. Don’t forget to get changes in writing as well!
Don’t pay the whole amount up front. Giving the full payment in advance means that there is little monetary incentive for the job to be done fully and properly. While only disreputable companies will take advantage of this it is best to have leverage. For example if you end up having to change contractors because of an issue you aren’t out the whole amount.
Check with the local government bank or Red Cross offices. When in doubt — ask! This is especially true for funding grants or loans. The government can also help you verify licenses permits and credentials. TheAlberta Municipal Affairs websiteis very helpful for this. You can stop by a branch of your bank or check out their website. Find your local Canadian Red Crossoffice or their contact info here. These places can also provide help if you suspect criminal activity or are a victim of a crime.
Don’t open attachments or downloads in your email unless you trust the source.
Don’t respond to email or social media appeals. There are some legitimate organizations that ask for donations via email but you should always go to the website directly. The Red Cross is still the only official place to send donations.
Alberta Emergencyis a government-run website with the latest updates and instructions on how to begin dealing with the recovery stage.
While most people and organizations are trying to provide assistance and support with the of best intentions there are always those few who like to take advantage of the situation. Remember to keep these things in mind and do your own research so that you aren’t left dealing with more problems than you started with.