The devastation caused by the recent floods in parts of Queensland and New South Wales has left many Australians reeling from significant loss and damage to their homes and businesses.
As the country now moves into the recovery stage, unfortunately there have already been reports of scammers attempting to target vulnerable flood victims. Government bodies, banks and insurers have been quick to point out this increased risk. Everyone needs to be particularly careful due to the increased number of scams which are growing more and more sophisticated.
The Westpac Bank has warned its customers that these scams may appear as donation sites and relief funds, or even as contact from insurance providers or repairers. The scams both prey on the generous nature of many Australians but also exploit the hardship of those who have been affected by the floods.
According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), there are several things people can do to protect themselves from these and similar scams:
- Don’t click on hyperlinks in texts, social media messages or emails, even if it appears to come from a trusted source
- Never reply to unsolicited messages asking for personal or financial details
- To determine if a contact is legitimate, look them up through an independent source such as a phone book or online search
- Never send money or personal information, such as credit card details, to anyone you don’t know or don’t trust
The Insurance Council of Australia estimates that in 2017, there were $280,000,000 worth of fraudulent claims. Unfortunately, the Council has also observed that since the 2020 Bushfires and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic the number of these scams have skyrocketed.
RACQ has provided several tips it believes will help identify what it describes as a “disaster chaser”:
- Insurers will not send a tradesperson or builder to your home without notifying you or providing details.
- Contact your insurer before agreeing to any repairs or rebuilding work to make sure your insurer will cover it.
- If in doubt, ask for identification such as a builder’s licence or driver’s licence, and ring your insurer to check.
- Don’t sign contracts with a disaster chaser if they door-knock.
- If you have signed a contract, there is a cooling-off period and your insurer can help you end the relationship with the disaster chaser
If you believe you may have become a victim of an insurance scam, you can immediately contact your bank, your insurance provider, the ACCC’s ScamWatch, or the Insurance Fraud Bureau of Australia.
If this article has raised any concerns for you or your organisation please do not hesitate to contact either John Hayward (07) 4046 1111, for advice specific to your circumstances.
This article was prepared with the assistance of Rhys Mapstone, law student.