Posts Tagged ‘natural disasters’

Look out for phony charities

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted Dec. 30, 2012, at 8:11 p.m.

As the end of the year approaches, many of us are thinking about charitable donations. Let’s face facts: Many donations are tax deductible, and many of us need all the deductions we can get.

Of course, the real reason to give is to support a cause that really needs your help. So, make sure when you give, that your money is going where you intend it to go.

That means staying away from nonprofits that may exist more for the benefit of professional fundraisers or overpaid executives than for people that really need help. Unfortunately, there are far too many of these types of “charities” around.

Some are created in response to natural disasters. “Storm chasers,” as they have become known, create websites even before a major storm strikes. The sites contain key words, like “relief,” to attract web searches. They have varying records in their effectiveness in providing real help to those in need after a storm.

The IRS issued reminders earlier this month, after more than 1,000 “relief” websites popped up following Hurricane Sandy:

  1. Give to recognized charities, and beware of sound-alike names (visit the IRS website, www.irs.gov, to find bona fide charities to which contributions are deductible).
  1. Don’t give out your financial or personal information, if you can’t be sure that data won’t be misused.
  1. Don’t give cash. Make donations by check, credit card or some other way that can be documented. And never make out a check in the name of the solicitor.

Scammers may claim to be affiliated with known organizations; sometimes they even use the official logo of a government or relief organization to gain a target’s trust.

Do your own research to be sure you know where your money is going. Keep your scam radar on high: Refuse solicitors who won’t answer questions about their cause; don’t give in to high pressure pitches; and if it’s a telephone solicitation, ask if the caller is a paid solicitor and, if so, what percent of money raised actually goes to the cause. You can always ask that your name be removed from a call list.

Scammers work other angles, too. Some file claims for storm damage that never occurred. Others claim to be doctors and ask for funds “to pay medical bills of injured people.” Once you give in to a phony solicitor, you can bet your name will be shared with other scammers.

Check websites like Charity Navigator and Guidestar that rate the effectiveness of charities. The Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance is another resource.

In Maine, check with the Charitable Solicitations Program, part of the state’s Department of Professional and Financial Regulation; call 624-8525 with questions about licensed solicitors or to file a complaint.

If you suspect someone’s perpetrating disaster fraud, notify the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (toll-free, 866-720-5721). For charity fraud on the web, notify the Internet Crime Complaint Center ( www.ic3.gov), a partnership of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

 

Bureau of Insurance Urges Maine Residents to Prepare for Severe Weather Events

Survey Finds Half of America’s Homeowners Unprepared for Disasters

Lacking Important Insurance Coverage, Home Inventory Checklist and More

GARDINER, MAINE  –  Acting Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa urged Maine residents on Thursday to use the news of Hurricane Irene to prepare for severe weather and natural disasters by taking simple steps that could save lives, minimize property losses and speed recovery. 

Citing wind, flooding and fire as major causes of damage during late summer and hurricane season, Acting Superintendent Cioppa is encouraging Mainers to review their homeowner or renter policy, to evaluate the benefits of flood insurance, to complete a home inventory checklist, and to assemble an emergency supply kit.

“With hurricane season upon us, the possibility of property losses can increase this time of year,” Cioppa commented.  “As we stay informed about the track of Irene, it’s a good time to review insurance policies, to purchase additional coverage if needed, to develop a list of home furnishings, equipment and other valuables, and to stock up on emergency supplies.”

Inventory Checklist:  Cioppa emphasized that the checklist can be enormously helpful in establishing an insurance claim.  Although a copy of the inventory can be kept at home, a second should always be maintained with insurance policies, medical records, and other important documents in a safety deposit box or other secure location.  The inventory should include photos and a videotape of the property.  Cioppa invited Mainers to visit the Bureau’s website (www.maine.gov/pfr/insurance) to download a free checklist.

Flood InsuranceCioppa reminded residents that flooding is typically not covered by a standard homeowners policy.  Residents of communities qualified through the National Flood Insurance Program are eligible to purchase flood insurance.  Due to a 30-day waiting period for coverage to take effect, quick action is needed for a policy to be in place for later in this year’s hurricane season.  Details are available from the National Flood Insurance Program by calling 1-800-427-2419 or online at www.floodsmart.gov.  The website includes tools to help homeowners assess their flood risk.

Cioppa noted that a survey conducted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) revealed that a majority of homeowners in the United States are largely unprepared for disasters.  Many consumers do not have the coverage necessary to protect themselves from specific types of losses that are not reimbursed under standard policies.  The survey found that nearly 50 percent lack an inventory of their possessions and 65 percent do not have flood insurance

Finally, the Acting Superintendent stressed the need for residents to establish an emergency supply kit.  It should include several days of drinking water (at least one gallon per person per day), non-perishable packaged or canned foods, a non-electrical can opener and cooking utensil.  The kit should also contain first aid materials, necessary medications, basic tools, a battery or crank-operated radio and flashlights, extra batteries and any supplies needed for pets.  Additionally, it’s wise to maintain a list of important names and phone numbers, including insurance company contact information.

A listing of Disaster Preparedness Tips from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners accompanies this press release.

The Bureau of Insurance is part of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation which encourages sound ethical business practices through regulation of insurers, financial institutions, creditors, investment providers, and numerous professions and occupations for the purpose of protecting the citizens of Maine. Consumers can reach the Bureau through its web site at www.maine.gov/insurance; by calling 800-300-5000 in state; or by writing to Bureau of Insurance, 34 State House Station, Augusta ME  04333.

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Disaster Preparedness Tips for Homeowners and Renters from the NAIC

  • Take an inventory of your valuables and belongings. This should include taking photographs or a video of each room. This documentation will provide your insurance company with proof of your belongings and help to process claims more quickly in the event of disaster.
  • To enable filing claims more quickly, keep sales receipts and/or canceled checks. Also note the model and serial numbers of the items in your home inventory.
  • As you acquire more valuables — jewelry, family heirlooms, antiques, art —consider purchasing an additional “floater” or “rider” to your policy to cover these special items. These types of items typically are not covered by a basic homeowners or renter’s insurance policy.
  • Remember to include in your home inventory those items you rarely use (e.g., holiday decorations, sports equipment, tools, etc.).
  • Store copies of all your insurance policies in a safe location away from your home that is easily accessible in case of disaster. You may want to store your policies and inventory in a waterproof, fireproof box or in a safe, remote location such as a bank safe deposit box. Consider leaving a copy of your inventory with relatives, friends or your insurance provider and store digital pictures in your e-mail or on a Web site for easy retrieval.
  • Know what is and is not covered by your insurance policy. You might need additional protection depending on where you live. Make sure your policies are up to date. Contact your insurance provider annually to review and update your insurance policy.
  • Keep a readily available list of 24-hour contact information for each of your insurance providers.
  • Find out if your possessions are insured for the actual cash value or the replacement cost. Actual cash value is the amount it would take to repair or replace damage to your home or possessions after depreciation while replacement cost is the amount it would take to repair or replace your home or possessions without deducting for depreciation. Speak with your insurance provider to determine whether purchasing replacement coverage is worth the cost.
  • Speak with your insurance provider to find out if your policy covers additional living expenses for a temporary residence if you are unable to live in your home due to damage from a disaster.
  • Appraise your home periodically to make sure your insurance policy reflects home improvements or renovations. Contact your insurance provider to update your policy accordingly.
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