Officials warn of social media scams and cybercrime associated with Hurricane Dorian

RALEIGH, N.C. - Hurricane Dorian is bringing more than just weather damage.

Officials with the N.C. Department of Information Technology urged North Carolinians to be cautious of cybercrime and social media scams associated Hurricane Dorian on Tuesday.

Cybercriminals take advantage of natural disasters such as hurricanes, to solicit personal information and to take advantage of vulnerable infrastructures, disaster victims and volunteers by using social engineering techniques like phishing, officials said.

Phishing emails and phone calls may try to pose as official disaster aid organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA and other federal representatives will never ask for personal banking information, Social Security numbers or registration numbers.

These steps were provided by the N.C. Department of Information Technology to stay safe:

  • Carefully look at email and web addresses. Cybercriminals will make them look as legitimate as possible, often using variations of spellings. The URL may have a different domain, such as .net instead of .gov.
  • Do not click on links in emails and social media posts from anyone unless you know and have verified the sender or social media account.
  • Take time to look at the sender’s email address. Do not click on any links until you are certain the organization is legitimate. Validate the organization’s website for its contact information, and use sites such as www.charitynavigator.org to verify a charity organization.
  • Make sure anti-malware software is up to date, and you’ve implemented  anti-phishing capabilities if available.
  • Do not provide personal information or information about your organization.

If you are the victim of a scam, submit a complaint by clicking here.

If you are the victim of a cyberattack, submit an incident report by clicking here.

Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood in Florida reported in the aftermath of the storm an 83-year-old woman was schemed out of $20,000 after she was promised tree cutting repair work. He said a visually impaired man was the target of a scheme after people pretending to be city employees knocked on his door and said they needed to inspect the tap water.

Below is information from the Better Business Bureau about home improvement scams:

Use caution when hiring a home improvement contractor. Scams abound, especially following a major storm, flood, or other weather event when many homeowners are trying to repair their houses. But contractor scams can happen any time, so be wary of high-pressure sales tactics, up front fees, and fly-by-night businesses. Con artists will take homeowners’ money and deliver slipshod work… or no work at all.

How the Scam Works:

Home improvement scams can start with a knock on the door, a flyer, an ad. The contractor may offer a low price or a short timeframe. One common hook is when the scammer claims to be working in your neighborhood on another project and has leftover supplies.

Once started, a rogue contractor may "find" issues that significantly raise the price. If you object, they threaten to walk away and leave a half-finished project. Or they may accept your upfront deposit and then never return to do the job. Following a natural disaster, scammers persuade homeowners to sign over their insurance payment.

Tips to Spot This Scam:

  • Watch out for "red flags." Say no to cash-only deals, high-pressure sales tactics, high upfront payments, handshake deals without a contract, and on-site inspections. Not all “storm chasers” are con artists, but enough are that you should be cautious any time a home contractor contacts you first…especially after a natural disaster.
  • Ask for references and check them out. Bad contractors will be reluctant to share this information and scammers won’t wait for you to do your homework. If you can, get references from past customers, both older references to check on the quality of the work and newer references to make sure current employees are up to the task. Check them out at bbb.org to see what other customers have experienced. And always be sure to get a written contract with the price, materials and timeline. The more detail, the better.
  • Know the law. Work with local businesses that have proper identification, licensing and insurance. Confirm that your vendor will get related permits and make sure you know who is responsible for what according to your local laws and that your vendor is ready to comply.

For more information, check out this BBB tip on storm chasers. And before you hire anybody, read these tips on hiring a contractor.

To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker.

To learn how to protect yourself, go to “10 Steps to Avoid Scams.”

Click here for more Dorian coverage.

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