Scammers target Hurricane Harvey, Houston victims

The FTC has warned that fraudsters have reached a new low with a flood insurance scam.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer on

As US citizens cope with the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey and residents of Houston await rescue, scammers show there is no moral barrier they will not break with a fresh campaign targeting these victims.

Hurricane Harvey, the strongest tropical storm to strike the United States in many years, has left devastation in its wake.

Houston, Texas, has endured extreme flooding with countless residents losing their homes and possessions, fatalities have been reported, chemical plants have exploded and thousands of people are in shelters awaiting assistance to rebuild their lives.

When there is panic, heartbreak, and loss, criminals are waiting in the wings to take advantage of confusion and heightened emotion.

Hurricane Harvey is no exception.

On Thursday, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned in a security advisory that a flood insurance scam is targeting areas affected by the tropical storm.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), homeowners and renters are getting fraudulent robocalls claiming that their flood premiums are past due.

Playing on the panic of not being able to claim for damages caused by the natural disaster, the calls inform victims that unless they submit a payment immediately, their flood premiums will become invalid.

If you receive one of these calls, you should not respond at all -- and you should certainly not hand over any personal details, as this information may be used in identity theft, or give them any money.

Instead, victims should contact their insurance providers directly and not engage with any cold callers.

The scam is nothing more than an outrageous and blatant attempt to capitalize on human disaster. The unfortunate thing is that scam artists often tap into human emotion to panic victims into making decisions they might not otherwise with a cool and rational head -- and as the sheer volume of different fraud campaigns out there highlights, it often works.

Instead, those who suspect fraud should report it to the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721, as well as to the FTC.

It's not often, but sometimes cold-calling spammers get what they deserve. Programmer Roger Anderson, for example, is the creator of the Jolly Roger bot which intercepts robot calls and scammers with a botnet targeting Windows Support scams by creating never-ending loops of legitimate-sounding calls to prevent scammers from having the time to dupe others out of their money.

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