Natural disaster victims will inevitably face massive financial challenges as they try to get back on their feet again following the destruction that has been visited upon their lives. Unfortunately, there are many scam artists who make their livings by exploiting those who have lost their homes or suffered other kinds of significant damage as a result of a hurricane, flood, earthquake, or tornado. In addition, institutions whose role is ostensibly to help disaster victims often do just the opposite, making difficult situations even worse.
The vultures who profit from natural disasters come in all different stripes, and if you are ever unfortunate enough to get caught up in such a catastrophe, you need to know who you can trust and who you cannot. Depending on the wrong people can ultimately turn a bad financial situation into a living nightmare from which there is little to no escape.
Beware of Your Government
When Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed the city of New Orleans, helpless citizens and overwhelmed local politicians waited for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to arrive to take charge and organize the rescue of the city. FEMA’s failures in the gulf states (New Orleans and Mississippi) have now become legendary, but they certainly should not have been surprising. In 1992, FEMA’s performance in the wake of Hurricane Andrew was just as pathetic and ineffective. In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, Congress authorized more than $62 billion in emergency aid to be administered by FEMA, mostly to meet the temporary housing needs of those who lost everything in the aftermath of the hurricane. But the FEMA effort was marked by waste, sloth, and inefficiency, as is so often the case when government agencies are asked to provide help after a catastrophe.
Presumably, you should be able to expect immediate help from the government after a natural disaster. After all, just what are you are paying all those taxes for anyway? But the experience after Katrina shows that no one should expect any help from the government after they have lost everything in a flood, earthquake, or hurricane.
But even if they were to come through with some financial aid for people in your area, you may want to think twice before accepting any of it. FEMA has just recently sent letters to 5,650 victims of 129 different natural disasters demanding refunds for the aid they were given in the past. Yes, you read that correctly – FEMA claims these people were mistakenly given too much money by the government, and they now have to pay it back as soon as possible. Of course, none of these people actually have the money anymore, because they were natural disaster victims, and they used the money to help rebuild their lives. But now, because the government supposedly made mistakes, it is their responsibility to pay for it with money they don’t have.
Natural disaster vultures are a varied lot, and they exploit disaster victims in a myriad ways. Government vultures in some ways may be the most appalling of all – they will never be held accountable for their perfidy by the law, because they are the ones who make the laws.
Beware of the Insurance Industry
People pay for insurance because they want protection in case something bad happens to them or their property. As long as everything is okay, the relationship between the insurance company and client is generally placid. However, if something bad actually does happen, say because of a natural disaster, and it comes time to put in a claim, that formerly placid relationship immediately turns into one marked my enmity, greed, and mistrust – on the part of the insurance company towards you. As you prepare to put in your claim (which you should do as quickly as is humanly possible), you need to realize this and prepare to be treated poorly, unfairly, and without a shred of respect.
You should have a detailed and well-documented home inventory as evidence of what you owned and what you lost in the disaster, which will hopefully force the insurance company and their claims adjuster to deal with you fairly and speedily. But if they don’t, and they make you an offer that is clearly inadequate, you need to hire an independent claims adjuster to help you put together a strong appeal. Going to court could be an option, but only if legal fees won’t cause you to ultimately lose more than you might gain.
Insurance companies should be there to deliver on the promises of your contract with them, and considering the obscene profits they make, there is no reason for them to be parsimonious with natural disaster victims. But the vulture mentality is strong in this industry, and if an insurance company sees the chance to save a few dollars by reducing an award offer to a disaster victim who can’t completely prove his losses, they will do so in a heartbeat. Insurance companies should be seen as vultures, and any time you have to put in a claim for any reason, you need to watch them like a hawk.
Beware of Contractors
Based on sheer numbers, shifty contractors are the biggest category of vulture that any natural disaster victim must avoid. These vultures, in some ways, are more like termites, as they will emerge from the woodwork en masse to swarm around you with all kinds of offers that seem too good to refuse if your home has been badly damaged by a storm, tremor, or conflagration. Roofing contractors, landscapers, siding contractors, tree service companies, and window contractors are some examples of who you may hear from in the aftermath of your flood or tornado – and in each of these categories you will find a boatload of swindlers, con men, and ne‘er do-wells.
Before you hire any contractor to do home repair, be sure to find out if they are licensed and bonded, and check with the nearest Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against them. Resist hard sells and any “too good to be true” offers, and only hire someone to do a job if a contract has been drawn up with exact costs and time frames established. Only pay a small percentage upfront, and never make a final payment until the job is finished and you are certain it is satisfactory.
In the case of contractors, many are decent, hardworking businessmen with dedicated employees who are deserving of our respect. You just have to make sure you do your due diligence and hire these contractors, instead of the vultures with termite souls who prey upon the vulnerable with the sole intention of cheating them and stealing what little they have left.
Don’t Be Anyone’s Carrion
If you are ever the victim of a natural disaster, you will face many difficult challenges as you try to rebuild your life. Money will be precious, which is why you need to do whatever you have to in order to make sure you get all you can for it. Saving your own money and relying on your own resources to get you out of trouble is the best approach. But no matter how much you try to be self-reliant, you have to be aware of the vultures who will be circling high above you, just waiting for their opportunity to descend.
In the end, everything can be summed up thusly: be careful with your money, stand up for your rights, and don’t let anyone convince you to do something foolish out of fear or desperation.