This Hurricane Season Learn to Take Shelter from Disaster-Related Financial Fraud

Hurricane season is upon us. It may not be possible to predict when the next ocean storm or other natural disaster will take place, but one thing you can count on is that when it happens, scammers will try to take advantage of the situation.

This was born out in 2017, the most costly hurricane season on record. A week after Hurricane Harvey ravaged southern states, the National Center for Disaster Fraud received over 3,000 calls about disaster fraud and scams, according to the Chicago Tribune . And that was just after one storm. Each storm and disaster can see a new host of scams emerge. The Center for Disaster Fraud, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, was started in 2005, following Hurricane Katrina, to address this unfortunate trend.

As you put together your disaster preparedness plan this year, now is a good time to brushing up on the signs of fraud. And be on the lookout for these three common disaster-related financial frauds:

Upfront fee frauds. These are scams that charge you-often, in advance-to claim benefits, access services or apply for a disaster-related loan. If you are looking for a loan, check first with your state and federal government emergency service providers . You are generally able to receive their services for free. And remember: Government employees never charge to help you obtain benefits or services. If someone is looking to charge you, it could be the sign of an upfront fee fraud.

Phishing scams. These are ploys to get you to provide sensitive personal information such as your bank or investment account information, credit card numbers or Social Security number. Phishers might impersonate government agencies or financial regulators to build credibility. They may demand account information to deposit funds from an insurance claim, a government-issued check or settlement money . Never give out personal or financial information to people you do not know-and proceed with caution if someone requests sensitive personal information. Most legitimate agencies will not ask for this information via phone or email.

Stock pump-and-dump scams. These shams tout stocks and other investments with the promise of huge gains-but as the price peaks, the scammers sell their shares, pocketing the profits and leaving other investors with losses or worthless stock. The scammers who run these frauds will use any hook, including disasters, to build demand. Be wary of unsolicited phone calls , emails and text messages, including from messaging apps , about investments linked directly or indirectly to a recent disaster.

Red Flags of Fraud

Pay attention to tactics that may signal financial fraud:

High pressure: No reputable financial professional should push you to make an immediate decision, or tell you that you must "act now." If someone pressures you to decide immediately on a financial opportunity, or directs you to pay an upfront fee to receive disaster-related financial assistance, steer clear. Even if no fraud is taking place, this type of pressure is inappropriate.

Guarantees: Be highly suspect of anyone who guarantees that a financial offer "can't miss" or will perform a certain way. All investments carry some degree of risk.

Unregistered products: Many financial scams involve unlicensed individuals selling unregistered investments-ranging from stocks, bonds, and oil or gas deals to fictitious instruments, such as prime bank investments. Here is how you can Ask and Check about investments and investment professionals.

Scarcity: Fraudsters know how to create a false sense of urgency by claiming limited supply or time, or suggesting exclusivity. Phrases such as "limited time offer," "supplies are limited," or "you've been specially selected" are designed to provoke your emotions and make you act without reviewing an offer carefully.

You can use the FINRA Scam Meter to help spot red flags of financial fraud. FEMA can also help. In addition to providing assistance following a major disaster, FEMA maintains helpful information on its website to help citizens avoid disaster fraud .

Subscribe to FINRA's The Alert Investor newsletter for more information about saving and investing.

FINRA is dedicated to investor protection and market integrity. It regulates one critical part of the securities industry - brokerage firms doing business with the public in the United States. FINRA, overseen by the SEC, writes rules, examines for and enforces compliance with FINRA rules and federal securities laws, registers broker-dealer personnel and offers them education and training, and informs the investing public. In addition, FINRA provides surveillance and other regulatory services for equities and options markets, as well as trade reporting and other industry utilities. FINRA also administers a dispute resolution forum for investors and brokerage firms and their registered employees. For more information, visit .

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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