Be on the alert for flood scammers

Stay alert: Police are urging Latrobe Valley residents to be on alert for 'disaster chasers'. file photograph

Zac Standish

Latrobe Valley flood victims are being urged to stay alert as scammers look to take advantage of those at their most vulnerable.

Commonly referred to as ‘disaster chasers’, these people descend on areas that have recently undergone a traumatic weather event, such as the recent severe weather event in the valley, and offer a wide range of different services to ‘assist’ in the clean-up effort.

An Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) spokesperson described the typical methods by which these people go about their work.

“We call them disaster chasers because they do exactly that, they follow natural disasters all over Australia, so depending on the event they will change their mode of operation,” the spokesperson said.

“The things they tend to want to ‘assist’ homeowners with are things like debris and tree removal, they may also offer to do inspection of damage and they may also offer to do repairs to the home.”

As a result of letting a disaster chaser into their home, a number of negative implications can arise when it comes to insurance.

“Where that comes into the equation in terms of insurance is that if the home owner allows these disaster chasers to do a home inspection or repairs it may then have implications on their insurance policy,” they said.

“The insurer does an assessment and determines what repairs need to be done, so if somebody else has come in and had a bit of a fiddle and not done great repair work or done more damage to the property, that can then implicate the insurance claim.”

For those worried this may happen to them there are a number of tell-tale signs to look out for.

“The telling sign (that the person is a disaster chaser) is that they ask for cash up front. Door knocking is the other big sign, if you are a home owner and you just want to get debris removed you will pick up the phone and find somebody local to come and do it, if somebody door-knocks you and offers the service that is a whole different ball game (and that’s when people should become concerned),” they said.

The work of these disaster chasers has police on high alert, with Acting Senior Sergeant Andy Milbourne warning people of the risk currently posed to flood affected properties.

“It is terrible to see (this is happening), people in these areas have gone through enough without these unscrupulous people coming through and trying to scam them out of their hard earned money,” Sgt Milbourne said.

“Particularly those who have a lot of trees down around their place, these people are coming through to try and get money out of them for doing half a job or not even doing the job at all, so patrons just need to be aware that these disaster chasers are out there and the potential is very high.”

To those scammers currently out in the Latrobe Valley region, Sgt Milbourne had this message.

“First and foremost we would just love for them to go away and not rip people off it is as simple as that,” he said.

“We are all here trying to help each other and when people like this come in it really undermines everything and makes people untrusting which is not a good way to live.”

In terms of recommendations for people who believe they might be getting scammed, the ICA spokesperson had this advice.

“The insurer will never send somebody to your house without letting you know, so you can then discount they are coming from insurer if they door-knock – the best thing to do is say I am dealing with this with my insurer,” they said.

“When it comes to reporting these scammers there is the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), who are a national body people can contact to assist them, and if there is anything threatening or harassment just call the police.”