Disasters, like the California wildfires, bring scammers out of the woodwork. In addition to the donation scams, there are also bad guys who prey on homeowners who are faced with rebuilding. Read the tips below to make sure you donate to worthy causes and to make sure you don't lose serious cash to fly-by-night contractors and servicers.
How to avoid donation scams
There here are many legitimate options to help the people affected by the fire, and the Better Business Bureau has suggestions on how to ensure you do not fall victim to a scam.
Keep in mind that a lot of the fraudulent groups are very good at impersonating very well-known, legitimate charities. So, go online and double-check the spelling of the charity name, and make sure that you are on a secure web page. This requires that you take note of the top of the URL. Make sure it’s a secure page and check the entire site
Here are tips from the Better Business Bureau
• Check with the California list of approved charities to see whether it’s a legitimate charitable organization. (https://oag.ca.gov/charities)
• Donate with a credit card or online portals such as PayPal.
• Avoid donating cash.
• If online, check the website URL for Https:// (the ‘s’ means the site is secure and the information is encrypted). Look for the “lock” icon in the URL as well.
• Ask lots of questions of those asking for money or articles.
• Do they understand the organization’s mission and vision?
• Ask for identification and contact numbers.
• Do they offer tax receipts?
• Be very wary of “crowdfunding” portals as a way to raise money. These are set up very quickly and easily, and have been fronts for scams in the past. They are NOT registered charities.
• Most charitable organizations do not solicit door-to-door.
• Avoid being pressured to give money.
• Keep your emotions in check; con artists strike when emotions are running high.
• Delete any questionable emails and pop-ups soliciting for donations.
• Check with your local government whether they are actively collecting money or donations.
--source: CKNW, AM 980, Canada
How to Avoid Construction Scams
Be suspicious of any contractor who tries to rush you. If possible, shop around for a contractor by getting recommendations from friends and neighbors. Be wary of anyone knocking on your door offering unsolicited repairs to your home. Get three written estimates for the work and compare bids.
• Always check references – Call other clients who had projects completed by this contractor and find out how they felt about their experience. Ask would they recommend him to a friend.
• Don’t pay up front – Always inspect the work and make sure you’re satisfied before you pay. Most contractors will require a reasonable down payment on work, but don’t pay anything until you have a signed written contract.
• No lump sum payments – Pay as the worked is completed in phases. Unscrupulous contractors can take payment and not complete all the work.
• Check licenses – Always check your contractor’s licenses and credentials with your State Contractors’ Licensing Board, the Better Business Bureau or state attorney general’s office to see if the firm has any outstanding complaints.
• Written signed contract – Always have a written, detailed contract that clearly states everything the contractor will do, including prices for labor and materials, clean-up procedures, and estimated start and finish dates. Never sign a contract with blank spaces, which a crooked contractor can alter after he’s gotten your signature.
• FEMA does not endorse contractors – Don’t believe a contractor who says he’s supported by the government. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does not endorse individual contractors or loan companies; call FEMA toll-free at 1-800-621-FEMA for more information.
• Don’t use cash – Use a check or credit card instead. This creates a record of your payments to the contractor.
--source: Property Casualty Insurers Association of America
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