Natural Disaster Relief Waiting List: Phone Scam Overview

In 2016 there were nearly 50 reports to FEMA of major natural disasters happening throughout the year in the U.S. These natural disasters ranged from severe storms, tornados, hurricanes, to flooding and wildfires, like the ones that occurred in Tennessee in the late fall.

Whenever there is a natural disaster, phone scammers will seek to profit off of the losses of others by claiming to promise natural disaster relief. Below are the different variations of this scam, and how you can identify and stop it.

It Starts With a Text Message

Like a variety of other phone scams, the natural disaster relief waiting list phone scam usually begins with a text message. In the days following a natural disaster, scammers will contact individuals in the affected areas and claim to be able to get them assistance more quickly by adding them to a special wait list. The text usually instructs you to respond back "YES" in order to be put on the list, or includes a number that you should call in order to speak with a representative.

When replying back to the text or calling back the number you will be charged double what you would normally pay. Using tactics not unlike the one-ring phone scam, this phone scam gets you to stay on the line for long periods of time while your phone bill is run up unbeknownst to you.

Other Variations

Many times the disaster relief phone scam will be a direct call asking if you need any assistance. If you state that you have been affected by the disaster and you require assistance the caller will ask for personal information, like your Social Security number, in order for you to receive your benefits. Ultimately, the scammer will instead sell this information or commit identity theft.

Another variation is similar to charity phone scams, the caller will say that they are calling on behalf of victims of a recent natural disaster and asking for donations of money to help cover basic supplies. Many people having seen the disaster in the news will donate to help, however, none of this money will actually ever go to help any of the disaster victims.

How to Beat These Scammers

Know that there is no special waiting list in the fall-out of a natural disaster. For all disaster assistance, you should contact FEMA directly at 800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 800-462-7585.

You should also contact your insurance company in order to file the proper claims.

If you have received any unsolicited calls or text messages from unknown numbers promising assistance, be speculative.

If you've received calls from people asking for donations in order to help victims of natural disasters and would like to help, do not give any payment information over the phone. Instead, hang up and research online what is the best way to help, what types of donations are needed, and which charities or funds are reputable.

Many times in the wake of a disaster what is most needed, more than money, are basic supplies like clean water, non-perishable food items, and clothing. It's important to research how you can best help a situation before taking any action.

Spreading the Word About These Scammers

You can run a reverse phone lookup on suspicious numbers to see if they've been flagged by others for being involved in phone scams. Many phone numbers that are used in these scams are used to target many other people in the community and surrounding area.

If you feel that you've been contacted by a scammer pretending to be a natural disaster relief group you should report it to your local law enforcement's office, as well as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

CallerSmart also allows you to report fraudulent phone numbers and leave your feedback in order to warn others about phone scams happening in your area. To leave your feedback on a number in our online phone book or caller ID app for iPhone, just search the number and choose the "Leave Your Feedback" option.