As Floridians try to recover from Hurricane Michael they face a myriad of challenges. We thought we would post a few tips relating to common post-disaster fraud tactics and other consumer issues along with a list of resources. Luckily several state offices and other non-profit organizations already have good info that we're able to share.
The following sections on recovering after a loss and how to protect yourself from scams are taken directly from the FL Chief Financial Officer’s hurricane website. Click here to visit the site.
Consumer tips to recover after a loss.
If it is safe, carefully assess your home and property for damage. As soon as you are able, take pictures of any damage. These photos will be helpful when filing an insurance claim. Maintain copies of your household inventory and other documentation. This will assist the adjuster in assessing the value of the destroyed property.
If you have damage, contact your insurance company directly as soon as possible to file a claim. Insurance adjusters have already been deployed into impacted areas to help manage your claims.
Do not allow a third party, such as a water remediation firm or contractor to contact your insurance company for you.
If you are asked to sign an Assignment of Benefits form by a contractor, make sure you read it carefully and understand clearly what rights and benefits under your insurance policy you may be signing away. You do not need to sign an AOB in order to get your insurance claim processed or your residence repaired.
Signing over your insurance benefits to a contractor may cause an increase in costs for which you could be left on the hook. Make sure that you stay in control of the home insurance policy you bought and paid for – and do not sign away that control to a third party who may not have your best interests at heart.
When possible, take steps to make temporary repairs that can help prevent further damage from occurring. Keep your receipts for any repairs or supplies you purchase. You may be reimbursed as part of your claim.
Be aware of fraud and scams.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, Floridians should be aware and cautious of potential fraud, scams, identity theft and price gouging. Following a storm, scam artists and those looking to take advantage of persons in need are more prevalent and you must be more vigilant. Below are a few tips to protect yourself from potential fraud and scams:
Use reputable and licensed contractors. To determine if a contractor is licensed, visit the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s licensee search.
Ensure that contractors carry the proper liability and workers’ compensation insurance by visiting the Division of Workers’ Compensation website.
Beware of contractors requesting that you pay more than half of the cost upfront.
Charitable Donation Scam
Before responding to solicitations for donations, ensure that the charity is legitimate by reviewing the Gift Givers’ Guide.
Contact the charity directly to determine if the person requesting the donations is an employee or volunteer.
Request a receipt with the charity’s name, street address and phone number.
Beware of persons impersonating Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), state or local representatives. Official personnel should display their identification badges; should provide identification without hesitation, if asked; and say why they are in the area (i.e. surveying damage, providing assistance to residents, etc.). Representatives should not request cash for services or personal information, such as your Social Security Number, bank account information, etc.
If you are in need of assistance from FEMA, contact the FEMA helpline at 1-800-621-3362 or contact your local emergency management organization.
If you suspect that someone is impersonating FEMA, state or local personnel, call 911 or contact the local police department or sheriff’s office immediately.
Be on alert! Scammers will pop up after a storm. Call the Department of Financial Services’ Consumer Helpline at 1-877-693-5236.
Be wary of fly-by-night repair companies. A quick fix is not always a good thing. Ask to see the identification and professional license of anyone who comes to your house offering to help with repairs. You can verify a contractor’s license and check to see if there are any complaints against them by calling the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation at (850) 487-1395. Also ask for references from previous work and be sure to report unlicensed contractors.
All legitimate contractors must carry insurance. Ask for proof of liability and workers’ compensation coverage, then verify it by calling the Division of Workers’ Compensation at 1-800-742-2214.
Don’t rush into signing a contract. If you hire someone to make repairs, fully read all work agreements before signing. Ask questions until you fully understand the documents and ask directly whether you as the homeowner or your insurance company will be responsible for payment. Be on the lookout for language that gives the contractor the right to communicate or negotiate directly with your insurance company or language that requires all claim proceeds to be made payable to the contractor.
If someone calls you on the phone asking for personal information, ask for a call-back number and hang up. Do not provide any information immediately. Legitimate organizations will cooperate.
Do not post personal details on social media sites. Post to let friends and family know that you’re safe, but do not post your home address and do not advertise that you are away from home. Criminals are opportunists! They know that an empty home is an easy target!
If you encounter suspicious activity of any kind, report it immediately! If it’s happening to you, it’s happening to someone else, too. Call our Consumer Helpline to report fraud at 1-877-693-5236.
More info on contractors.
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation has a Hurricane Guide with good tips relating to questionable contractors who may be unlicensed. Some of that info is below but you can click here for the full guide.
Services that require a state license
Services that do not require a state license
Be cautious of individuals who...
Advertise without a license number
Request cash only
Use high-pressure sales tactics
Lack a written contract
Demand a full payment up front
Solicit door to door
The Florida Division of Consumer Services has an insurance helpline to assist consumers with insurance-related questions from 8am-5pm, Mon-Fri. (1-877-MY-FL-CFO or 1-877-693-5236)
Division of Consumer Services info on filing insurance complaints. Click here. Problems with insurance companies can be also be directed to the Attorney General’s office by calling (1-866-966-7226) or by calling the Florida Department of Financial Services at (1-800-342-2762)
CFO's Homeowner Claims Bill of Rights brochure. Click here.
The CFO’s website has current information on DFS insurance villages and insurance mobile centers. Click here.
The Florida Bar legal aid hotline is now available to Hurricane Michael survivors in Florida who can’t afford an attorney. Callers will leave a message which will be returned within two business days between 9am-5pm. (1-866-550-2929)
The Florida Bar also has several online pamphlets, including “Mass Disaster: A Victim’s Guide”, one on home insurance and one on the rights & duties of tenants.
Legal Services of North Florida has created several diisaster relief brochures with information for tenants: Disaster Information for Renters and Disaster Recovery Options for Federally Assisted Tenants.
Legal Services of North Florida also may be able to help with legal questions for those who meet income eligibility requirements. (1-850-385-9007)
Miscellaneous Other Resources:
The Community Justice Project put up a page with good tips relating to FEMA claims. Click here. Available benefits may include temporary housing, lodging expense reimbursement, repairs, replacement, housing construction and other needs. The FEMA site itself has a step by step todo list on filing claims. Click here. The Disaster Assistance Improvement program also offers good info. Click here.
FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at (1-866-720-5721)
This site has regularly updated information on open shelters. Click here.
Airbnb Open Homes program is active in response to Hurricane Michael. Click here.
The Tallahassee Democrat Newspaper has created a map with locations offering food, water, shelter & supplies. Click here.
Federal reemployment assistance is available to individuals impacted by Hurricane Michael. Full release here.
Those who receive food stamps (SNAP) who also lost power due to Hurricane Michael, you may be eligible for Replacement Food Stamps. Learn more here.
The Florida Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990) remains open 24/7 for free help coping with the stress of the storm.