As the 2020 hurricane season begins today, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), the state’s consumer clearinghouse, and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried are joining the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to raise awareness of consumer fraud scams surrounding natural disasters.
“As Floridians prepare for hurricane season, scammers are preparing to steal their personal information and hard-earned money. Our Division of Consumer Services, Florida’s consumer protection agency, is working to protect against fraud and provide tools and tips to avoid becoming a victim,” said Commissioner Fried. “Overcoming disasters like hurricanes is never easy, but knowing how to avoid scams can protect your finances, and FloridaConsumerHelp.com is here to help.”
What should consumers look for?
Clean-up and repair scams: After disasters, scammers may appear with promises of quick repairs and debris removal. Before you do business with any company providing these services:
- Do your research: Ask for licenses, proof of insurance, and references. Check with FDACS’ Division of Consumer Services for complaints.
- Get another estimate: Check if other companies offering similar services are providing quotes with comparable prices.
- Review contracts: Ensure all promises a company makes are in writing and that you understand what you’re signing.
- Never use cash: Always pay with a check or a credit card and never make the final payment until the work is complete.
Imposter scams: Imposter scams come in many varieties but often work the same way, a scammer pretends to be someone you trust and tries to convince you to send them money or personal information:
- Posing as government: Some scammers pretend to be government officials, inspectors, or utility workers who say immediate work is required. Always ask to see an ID. If anyone asks you for payment or your financial information, it’s a scam.
Job scams: Scammers often advertise in the same places as real employers and job placement firms, but they lie about your chances of getting a job and often ask you to pay before you get one — which is a sure sign of a scam. Authentic resources to locate job opportunities after a disaster:
- CareerOneStop: Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, CareerOneStop lists hundreds of thousands of jobs.
- State and county offices: Florida’s Department of Labor or Career Source Florida may have job listings.
- Colleges: College career service offices have helpful resources. If you’re not a current or former student, some schools may still let you access their job listing resources.
Rental listing scams: If you’re looking for a place to live, avoid anyone asking you to wire money or who asks for security deposits or rent before you’ve met or signed a lease.
- False listing: Some scammers hijack a real listing by changing the email address or other contact information and posting a modified ad. Try googling some the information in a listing to see where else it’s posted and if the contact information is the same.
- Verify addresses: Other scammers create listings for places that aren’t for rent or don’t even exist. Try searching the address and contact information provided to verify it’s legitimate.
Disaster charity scams: Scammers will often try to take advantage of the misfortune of others, including when disasters strike. Review FDACS consumer tips on donating wisely and avoiding charity scams.
What should consumers do?
- File a consumer complaint: To file a complaint, fill our online form or call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832) for Spanish speakers.
- Share your story: Share your story with friends and family or on social media to help others avoid falling victim.
- Review our consumer resources: Consumers can find helpful tips and recourse on our website: FloridaConsumerHelp.com.
The Federal Trade Commission is a partner agency to FDACS at the federal level and also has helpful consumer information on how to avoid scams.
Background: FDACS and the Division of Consumer Services is Florida’s state consumer protection agency, responsible for regulating charities, handling consumer complaints, and protecting against unfair and unsafe business practices. FDACS handles more than 400,000 consumer complaints and inquiries, oversees more than 500,000 regulated devices, entities, and products like gas pumps and grocery scales, performs over 61,000 lab analyses on products like gasoline and brake fluid, performs nearly 9,000 fair ride inspections, and returned over $2.8 million to consumers through mediations with businesses. The Division regulates businesses including motor vehicle repair shops, pawnbrokers, health studios, travel sellers, intrastate movers, professional surveyors and mappers, sweepstakes/game promotions, and telemarketers.