Photo by Marjan Grabowski on Unsplash.com

The FBI Columbia field office is cautioning the public to watch out for scammers in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

The storm caused significant damage in South Carolina, especially along the state’s coastal region. According to the FBI, scammers take advantage of natural disasters, often posing as hurricane relief organizations or contractors offering repair services. 

In regions like Charleston that were directly impacted by the hurricane, the FBI warns that scammers may go door-to-door offering promises of aid in exchange for personal information. 

Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds told the Charleston City Paper that people need to be careful about anything that seems too good to be true.

“Scams and deceptions from criminals are common following storms and during different times of the year,” he said.  “We remind and urge residents to thoroughly verify and vet any phone calls, persons online or in neighborhoods randomly knocking on doors.

“We strongly caution that persons never provide personal information, never transfer financial resources and never conduct business with these people without significant vetting and verification of who they are, business licenses, references from other clients, et cetera.”

The FBI warned people to keep from giving out personal information without confirming the legitimacy of the individual and organization. Officials working in impact zones are required to carry official identification and must present it when asked. 

Additionally, the bureau said federal government disaster assistance agencies will never require financial information as there is no fee required to apply for assistance. 

Trust your instincts and call police if needed

Reynolds gave this advice to anyone encountering something dodgy: “If a suspicious person is at your property and refuses to provide this information and refuses to leave, call 911 and police will respond to intervene and assist.

“If the situation seems suspicious, trust your instincts and if in fear call 911,” the chief said.  “There are unscrupulous criminals who prey on the elderly and many vulnerable people, often taking advantage during storms or other crises or particular needs of residents.”

Other things to look for

For anyone approached by an unfamiliar charity organization, the FBI asks the public to remain cognizant of possible signs of fraud, such as:

  • Charity names that sound similar to well-known charities
  • Inconsistent email addresses
  • Links from unfamiliar sources
  • Inconsistent or illegitimate websites

The FBI also suggests viewing online reviews, state regulators of charities and charity reports by the Better Business Bureau before donating. 

Once a charity has been vetted, the FBI recommends making donations with a credit card, as opposed to gift cards or wire transfers. After donating, ensure additional funds are not deducted or charged.

For anyone who believes they may have been a victim of disaster or charity fraud, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud by phone at 1-866-720-5721 or online at justice.gov/DisasterComplaintForm.

Anyone looking to help those impacted by Hurricane Ian are also advised to proceed with caution. The FBI suggested working with established charities or groups whose work you know and trust.


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