The Hurricane Harvey Scam is considered to be the aftershock of the devastation left by Hurricane Harvey. Amid stories of bravery and compassion, a wave of phone scammers have begun flooding Harvey survivors’ mobile and landline phone lines, attempting to rob them of anything they have left to their name.
These robocallers, posing as insurance agencies, falsely inform people that their premiums are past due and that they must send money immediately or their flood insurance will be canceled.
The Hurricane Harvey Scam has already collected thousands of dollars from unsuspecting and vulnerable victims, a number that certainly will rise. This is especially cruel given that some robocall recipients have not yet returned home to survey the devastation left by Hurricane Harvey, let alone file an insurance claim.
This again proves that scammers stop at absolutely nothing to steal from innocent victims regardless of their circumstances. FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program are urging people to hang up if they receive a robocall about flood insurance.
“Insurance companies and agents selling flood insurance policies do not use this process to communicate with customers about their flood insurance policies. In fact, if your payment is past due, your insurance company will send you several pieces of mail 90, 60, and 30 days before the policy expires,” - FEMA
FEMA’s disaster recovery program has already received 440,000 registrants for FEMA assistance, over 36 hours since the storm has passed. The agency is urging all victims to apply for assistance through the FEMA Disaster Recovery website only, and not to accept any offers of assistance from any supposed government, insurance, or FEMA affiliated officials over the phone.
The FTC has also released a statement warning disaster victims of the potential dangers of the Hurricane Harvey Scam:
“If you receive a call about past-due insurance, hang up and contact your insurance agent. The agent who handles your homeowners or renters insurance policy could be the same agent who handles your flood insurance policy. If your agent can’t help you, contact your insurance company. If you have a policy with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP Direct), call 1-800-638-6620. If you suspect fraud, call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline toll free at 1-866-720-5721. Also report it to the FTC. Your reports help the FTC and other law enforcement agencies bring scam artists to justice and put an end to unfair and misleading business practices.” - FTC
Though the storm has passed, the unfortunate reality is that Hurricane Harvey survivors must now be vigilant against the robocalls flooding their phone lines. In a time of need and desperation for people in our country, phone scammers have hit a new low as they double down their attempts to rob unsuspecting victims. Not even in our darkest hour will scammers show compassion, rather they aim to inflict additional devastation—all for their own personal benefit.
During a natural disaster, it's common for phone scammers’ and con-artists’ efforts to increase tenfold. These scams can range from robocalls posing as insurance agencies to fraudulent charity donations, all the way to people impersonating government aid officials.
“One thing we’ve learned is that scams often follow the news – especially when there’s a natural disaster, like Hurricane Harvey, in the headlines.” - FTC.
So, what makes these scam callers so confident they can steal your money and personal identity? The answer is simple: They know it’s close to impossible to get caught.
Scam callers have possessed the ability to call your phone from masked numbers since the introduction of phone spoofing, the practice of placing a call from a number that is not your own. Phone spoofing makes it incredibly difficult for organizations such as the FTC and FCC to track the individual placing these illegal calls, as they lack the advanced technological infrastructure to find these fraudulent callers.
Because of this, the FTC recommends relying on a third party scam call blocking app, such as RoboKiller, to effectively flag and block incoming scam calls on your mobile phone.
Whether you are a survivor of Hurricane Harvey, know someone who is, or are simply passionate about fighting scam calls, it is important to equip yourself with the tools to identify if the call you’ve received is, in fact, fraudulent. We recommend following these crucial steps to reveal the intentions of an unfamiliar caller:
When applicable, the best solution to managing scam call risk is to not answer phone calls from unfamiliar callers. However, this can be difficult to do, especially if you’re waiting to hear back regarding important information, such as disaster relief aid.
If do answer the phone and suspect the unsolicited caller has ill intentions, ask probing questions such as who the caller is calling on behalf of. Make sure to do so before you identify yourself, never identify your name, home address, or any other personal data to unknown callers.
Even if the caller seems legitimate, never give your personal data, a credit card number, or your social security number over the phone. Ask for verification of the service, product, debt owed, or charity in the form of direct mail or email if you are truly interested in following up with the caller.
Filing a scam call complaint to the FCC is a viable solution for peace of mind. It is important to note that reporting the call won’t stop the caller from attempting to scam you again, but it can help the FCC flag offenders and protect other consumers from becoming victims.
Though these steps can be helpful to avoid becoming a victim of phone scams, the most effective solution is to ensure these illegal scam callers never even reach your phone. While government organizations such as the FCC recommends downloading a third-party spam and robocall blocker app, they cannot formally endorse specific products for any type of scam solution.
However, RoboKiller won the 2015 Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Robocalls: Humanity Strikes Back competition and is the #1 rated scam call blocking app and offers global blocklists, audio fingerprinting, automatic spam call identification technology, and more. RoboKiller even answers scam calls for you with hilarious prerecorded messages to keep these heartless scammers on the phone to waste their time and resources.