Millions of Americans have been adversely affected by Hurricane Florence. Here are some tips to help people in the storm zone ensure that no one takes advantage of them and that they and their loved ones stay safe.
- Insurance Claims: Insured property loss could reach $5 billion or more. Reporting insurance claims quickly, maintaining receipts for any repair costs including living expenses, making detailed lists of lost items with as much verification as possible (including pictures), and getting multiple estimates from contractors will help ensure people get as much of their claims as possible covered, according to Consumer Federation of America’s Director of Insurance, who previously ran the National Flood Insurance Program.
- Rebuilding: Homeowners should only use licensed contractors with verifiable references to work on their homes. When interviewing contractors, homeowners should ask about their past experience repairing damage from flooding or other disasters, and their mold remediation practices. Each state (including North Carolina) has a Board of Contractors that offers a full list of licensed contractors. Homeowners can also get advice from FEMA.
- Fraud and Scams: After past disasters, con artists have posed as federal employees, insurance agents and housing inspectors. Fake flood robocalls have promised citizens money for simple information. People can take several measures to protect themselves. Ask for appropriate identification. Don’t give out critical information such as social security numbers, bank accounts or registration numbers. Don’t give anyone a large deposit or down payment before they provide their goods or services.
- Identity Theft: A new U.S. law allows anyone to freeze their credit for free. People can find out more here about how to protect themselves from identity theft, compounding woes from the hurricane.
- Price Gouging: North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia activated price gouging statutes prior to Hurricane Florence. If a business is escalating prices for gas, water, building supplies, food or other needs, people should report it to their state Attorney General’s office immediately.
- Food Safety: Storms such as Florence carry a lot of dangerous bacteria that can contaminate food or food preparation materials. The basic rule is if food has touched the flood waters, even if it’s still in the packaging, it should be thrown out. Discard any visibly damaged containers. Undamaged food supplies that are properly cleaned may be salvageable. Use bottled water until local authorities have confirmed that the local water supply is safe. And completely disinfect all food preparation surfaces, utensils, baby bottles, cutting boards and knives.
- Protecting 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. Additionally, many hotels are relaxing their pet policies and waiving pet fees — call ahead to find out. The InterContinental Hotels Group is welcoming pets free of charge. BringFido, a pet travel group, has published a list of evacuation shelters in the area of Florence that welcome pets. If people do have to leave their pets behind, PETA recommends leaving at least ten days worth of food and water.