Naples police offer tips for avoiding post-Ian scams

Naples Police Dept. Photo via WINK News.
Naples Police Department. Credit: WINK News.

The Naples Police Department has offered a list of tips for avoiding different kinds of scams after Hurricane Ian.

Advanced fee construction

A contractor will require money up-front for supplies. Once you give them money, they disappear, along with your money.

Red flags to look for:

  • An unsolicited approach.
  • An out-of-state “contractor.”
  • No pickup/work truck.
  • No professional indicators such as shirt, business card, or vehicle signage; no references
  • A contractor going door to door is not typically legitimate.

Precautions you can take:

  • Take photographs of the individual’s driver’s license and truck. Verify they are licensed to work in Florida by checking or calling (850) 487-1395.
  • If they are appropriately licensed, ensure you have a clear written contract with them. The contract may be short, but it should clearly state your deposit will be used to purchase supplies for your house, the company will complete the work in a defined amount of time, etc.
  • Avoid paying in cash, if possible, especially when it is paid before the work is fully completed. For the deposit, use a credit card, a check, or an online payment service such as Venmo or Zelle. These payment methods make sure there is a record of the money paid. Do not make the final payment until all the work is completed to your satisfaction.

Job scams

In addition to many other losses, many people have also lost their jobs. Scammers will prey on people out of work and advertise jobs that “sound too good to be true.” If it sounds too good to be true, then it is.

The jobs may offer high pay for work-from-home opportunities, mystery shopping, reshipping, etc. Other jobs may require you to be a “payment processor” and open bank accounts or use your own to forward payments overseas. In these instances, you become a “money mule” laundering money from other scams.

Red flags to look for:

  • The “employer” asks for payment for a background check or a canceled check for direct deposit.
  • The employer sends you a check and then requests partial repayment or that you purchase gift cards with the money.

Precautions you can take:

  • Do not respond to unsolicited offers of employment.
  • Before applying for a job posting, ensure the company is established and reputable.
  • Never cash/deposit a check and use the proceeds to send money back or buy gift cards. to send to the “employer” or anyone else.
  • If a new employer sends you a check for purchases or other reasons, wait until your bank tells you that the check has cleared before you use any of the funds. Otherwise, you may be responsible for the funds used when the check bounces because it is fake.

Housing scams

Scam artists know that people are desperately looking for housing. They will create fake ads for housing to scam victims out of money.

Red flags to look for:

  • The rental company requests you wire money to them to hold the rental unit. Or they ask for another payment before a lease has even been signed or you have seen the location.
  • The landlord claims to be overseas and can only communicate via email or at pre-arranged times. Steer clear of these situations.

Precautions you can take:

  • First, make sure you know who you are talking to. There is virtually no reason why a landlord, or their employee, would be unable to meet you in person.
  • Second, do not give anyone any money or sensitive financial information before seeing the housing in person. Even if it claims to be a live video of the location, photos or videos are not good enough. You cannot honestly know where the live video is being done.

Fake government assistance

Many legitimate government programs help people following an incident like Hurricane Ian. The scammers will pretend to represent one of the many existing government programs.

Red flags to look for:

  • They will request money from you, such as an advanced fee or application fee.
  • They may ask you for sensitive information such as banking information. The scammers will then use your personal information to apply for benefits directed to them instead of you. Of course, any “advance fee” you give them will also disappear.

Precautions you can take:

  • First, realize no legitimate government program will ever ask you for payment for relief supplies. Ask the person to show you their official identification for the agency their claim to represent.
  • If you are concerned about someone at your home, contact your local police department.

FEMA fraud

You can report FEMA-related fraud by email, phone at (866) 223-0814, or online. If the person claims to be a “FEMA inspector,” let them know you did not apply for assistance. If the inspector has left, call the FEMA helpline at (800) 621-3362 to tell them that you did not apply. FEMA will stop all further processing for the application.

Charity fraud scams

Following tragedies like Hurricane Ian, solicitations for money will spring up all over. Scammers will create fake online donation pages asking for donations for someone in need. While GoFundMe is probably the most common and widely known, there are others. Scammers will also solicit donations for charities that do not exist. The name of their “charity” may even look like a legitimate one, or they may claim they represent a legitimate charity. Ask them for their identification from the charity they claim to represent.

Precautions you can take:

  • Only donate to charities that you know have established histories.
  • Be careful of crowdfunding websites that post requests for monetary donations. Even though these sites try to limit the number of scams, they cannot always verify the legitimacy of the need and request.

Miscellaneous red flags

Some other common red flags to look out for:

  • Unsolicited contact by people, companies, or organizations you have not previously dealt with asking for sensitive information from you or asking for money.
  • Phone calls, text messages and emails are sent out with what appear to be “urgent requests” or offers the victim must accept immediately. As always, do not open unknown emails. These will often include a link for you to click to log in or submit an application. If you did not ask for the information, do not click on any link in the message.
  • Scammers will even go door to door to target affected area residents following hurricanes and damaging storms. They may pretend to be from your insurance company, an insurance adjuster hired by your insurer, your bank, a charity, etc. If you have any doubts, do not give any identifying information out to them to “confirm your account.” You can hang up the phone and call a known number for that entity.

When to contact the police

If you are contacted by phone, text, or email by someone you believe is a fraudster but have not given them any information, you should hang up the phone or delete the message. If you have not given them any information, you are safe and do not need to do anything further. However, if you did give them sensitive information in these instances, contact our non-emergency number immediately to file a report.

If you are visited in person by someone you suspect is a scammer, obtain as much information as you can about them, including their appearance, the name of the company they claim to represent, and a description of their vehicle. When it is safe to do so, call 911 to report the incident. Nearby patrol officers may be able to find them in the area either verify their legitimacy or prevent further fraud.

Contact numbers

  • Naples Police Department (non-emergency): (239) 213-3000 or (239) 213-4844
  • Collier County Sheriff’s Office (non-emergency): (239) 252-9300
  • Marco Island Police Department (non-emergency): (239) 389-5050
  • Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation:
  • FEMA: You can report FEMA-related fraud to:
  • The National Flood Insurance Program: (800) 638-6620

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