In the path of Hurricane Ida? You can take steps to protect your finances now

Hurricane Ida is projected to make landfall in Louisana late Sunday. Residents can start thinking now about how to protect themselves from opportunists and scam artists.

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Teresa Murray
Consumer Watchdog

Author: Teresa Murray

Consumer Watchdog

 

Started on staff: 2020
B.A., Kent State University

Teresa directs the Consumer Watchdog office, which looks out for consumers' health, safety and financial security. Previously, she worked as a journalist and columnist covering consumer issues and personal finance for two decades for Ohio's largest daily newspaper. She's earned dozens of state and national journalism awards, including Best Columnist in Ohio, Best Business Writer in Ohio, and National Headliner Award for coverage of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Among the accomplishments she’s most proud of: A journalism public service award for exposing improper billing practices by Verizon that affected at least 15 million customers nationwide. Her work caused Verizon to reach an $80 million settlement with the FCC, the largest ever imposed at that time. Teresa and her husband live in Greater Cleveland and have two sons and a dog. She enjoys biking, house projects and music, and serves on her church missions team and stewardship board.

As the Gulf Coast is threatened by yet another storm -- this time Hurricane Ida -- now is the time for residents to take steps now to protect themselves, their property and their finances:

  • Take photos: It's a good idea for all homeowners anytime, but especially those in the path of a storm. Take photos and videos of your home and belongings, if you can do it safely, so you can better document any losses.  

  • Protect your pets: People forced to evacuate need to know if hotels or shelters will take their pets. Pets Welcome is a good resource for that information for shelters and hotels. Additionally, many hotels relax their pet policies and waive pet fees during a natural disaster. Call ahead to find out. If people do have to leave their pets behind, PETA recommends leaving at least 10 days’ worth of food and water. Bring Fido offers these additional tips to keep your dog safe during a hurricane or other emergency.

  • Be on guard for price gouging: Louisiana and 36 other states have anti-price gouging laws that protect consumers from prices that are inflated after an emergency is declared. If a business is hiking prices for gas, water, building supplies, food, ice or other needs, people should report it to their state attorney general’s office immediately. Here's a link to the AG's office in Louisiana

  • Watch out for fraud and scams: After past disasters, con artists have posed as federal employees, insurance agents and housing inspectors to steal information and money. Scam robocalls have promised victims money for simple information. People can take several steps to protect themselves: Ask for appropriate identification. Don’t give out personal information such as Social Security numbers, bank account information, policy numbers or anything else to someone you didn’t contact independently. Remember, FEMA doesn't charge anyone to submit an application. 

  • File claims quickly: Report your claim as soon as possible because insurance companies generally process claims first come, first served, according to the Consumer Federation of America. Also, insurers should not raise your rate for filing a hurricane claim or fail to renew your policy for filing one, CFA said. Make detailed lists of losses, including living expenses and debris removal, and keep all receipts.

  • Get estimates: If possible, get multiple estimates from contractors to help you file a claim that will be accurate when it’s time to pay the bill. 
  • Don’t give anyone a large deposit or down payment before they provide their goods or services. And don't pay in cash or with a wire transfer or gift card.

  • Vet contractors: Homeowners should use only licensed contractors with verifiable references to work on their property. When interviewing contractors, homeowners should ask for proof of their insurance and bonding, and about their past experience repairing damage from flooding or other disasters and their mold remediation practices. Each state has a Board of Contractors that offers a full list of licensed contractors. Homeowners can also get advice from FEMA

  • Make sure your food is safe: Hurricanes and tropical storms carry a lot of dangerous bacteria that can contaminate food or food preparation materials. The basic rule is if food has touched any flood waters, even if it’s still in the packaging, it should be thrown out. Discard any containers with visible damage. Some undamaged food may be salvageable, if it didn’t require refrigeration. Use bottled water until local authorities have confirmed the local water supply is safe. And completely disinfect all food preparation surfaces, utensils, baby bottles, cutting boards, etc

  • Watch out for identity theft: Identity theft can compound your problems after a hurricane. Storm victims are particularly vulnerable. U.S. law allows anyone to freeze their credit files at no cost. People can find out more here about how to protect themselves from identity theft. 

  • Avoid scammers posing as charities: Con-artists will try to take advantage of someone else's misfortune and people's big hearts by soliciting donations that won't really go to help disaster victims after all. Check out this guide from the Federal Trade Commission on donating wisely and avoiding ripoffs. 

Teresa Murray
Consumer Watchdog

Author: Teresa Murray

Consumer Watchdog

 

Started on staff: 2020
B.A., Kent State University

Teresa directs the Consumer Watchdog office, which looks out for consumers' health, safety and financial security. Previously, she worked as a journalist and columnist covering consumer issues and personal finance for two decades for Ohio's largest daily newspaper. She's earned dozens of state and national journalism awards, including Best Columnist in Ohio, Best Business Writer in Ohio, and National Headliner Award for coverage of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Among the accomplishments she’s most proud of: A journalism public service award for exposing improper billing practices by Verizon that affected at least 15 million customers nationwide. Her work caused Verizon to reach an $80 million settlement with the FCC, the largest ever imposed at that time. Teresa and her husband live in Greater Cleveland and have two sons and a dog. She enjoys biking, house projects and music, and serves on her church missions team and stewardship board.