After the Storm: 4 Tips to Avoid Falling for Disaster-Related Financial Scams

After the Storm: 4 Tips to Avoid Falling for Disaster-Related Financial Scams
A member of the Guam National Guard helps an excavator operator remove debris after Typhoon Mawar in Guam on June 2. (Photo by Mark Scott/Guam National Guard)

As hurricanes and fires dominate headlines and communities across the country recover from billions in damages this year alone, it can be easy to lose track of financial attacks taking place in the weeks and months after a disaster.


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These attacks fall into two basic categories: Scams targeting those who’ve been impacted by the disaster, and those taking advantage of the generosity of the general public in the wake of such events. In either case, these basic precautions may keep a bad situation from becoming worse.


1. Relief Reality Check

  • The fraud: Scammers will contact residents of areas hit by a disaster and pose as a federal or state official, collecting personal information under the guise of a disaster assistance application, or inspection request.

  • The facts: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials will not ask for a Social Security number, and other government disaster-assistance personnel will not call you with questions about your finances, according to FEMA. FEMA doesn’t charge to inspect a damaged property. Think a request is fishy (or phishy)? Call the FEMA helpline at (800) 621-3362 to report an incident or determine its legitimacy.


[RELIEF AGENCIES: Army Emergency Relief | Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society | Air Force Aid Society | Coast Guard Mutual Assistance]


2. Insurance Issues

  • The fraud: Instead of posing as a federal official, scammers may pretend to be with your insurance agency, calling with questions about a claim or offering a faster payment in exchange for detailed information or an expediting fee. Software may allow them to appear as if they’re calling from your provider.

  • The facts: The safest step may be the simplest – if an “insurance company” representative calls, hang up and call the company back using the number on your bill or on the company website. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) warns similar diligence may be necessary when dealing with contractors, who may claim nonexistent ties to your insurance company. Don’t provide insurance account information to these vendors without research; many states have online databases of licensed contractors.


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3. Charity Scams

  • The fraud: Charity fraud warnings after a disaster are standard procedure, with scammers pocketing donations. These can take many forms, from door-knockers near the affected area to phony emails or text messages to phone solicitations.

  • The facts: The Federal Trade Commission outlines what you should know in this video, but the advice remains simple: Do your homework, skip charities that pop up in the aftermath of tragic events, and instead donate to charities with a track record. In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ian, which devastated Florida in 2022, The MOAA Foundation provided more than $36,000 in emergency financial relief grants to those in the military and veteran communities affected by the storm.


[RELATED: The MOAA Foundation Crisis Relief Program]


4. The Old Favorites

  • The fraud: In many cases, disaster-related scams and veteran-focused scams simply repurpose existing fraud tools for new (and vulnerable) audiences. Be on the lookout for some classics: Unprompted text messages with links, emails with misspelled words and close-but-not-quite logos and designs, and other efforts to separate the donor (or relief-seeking storm victim) from their money.

  • The facts: When in doubt, delete those messages and report these attempts. The National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF), founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, offers an online web complaint form and a toll-free Disaster Fraud Hotline (866-720-5721).


The Smart Money’s on MOAA

Making sound financial decisions is not always as simple as we would like. PREMIUM and LIFE members can access MOAA's Financial Planning Guide, as well as speak with a MOAA financial expert for additional assistance.


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About the Author

Kevin Lilley
Kevin Lilley

Lilley serves as MOAA's digital content manager. His duties include producing, editing, and managing content for a variety of platforms, with a concentration on The MOAA Newsletter and Follow him on X: @KRLilley