Less than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey made its final landfall along the Texas coast, the human toll in both deaths and injuries continues to rise. Sadly, these tragic losses are being made even worse by the influx of what can be best described as a “criminal element” which seeks only to enrich themselves at the expense of Texas hurricane survivors.
In the following sections, the Doan Law Firm of Houston offers a few “words to the wise” concerning steps that may help everyone, disaster victims and any others, who has been affected by the ongoing disaster recovery efforts.
1. Just because someone has a “badge” or some other form of “identification” doesn’t mean that he or she is there to help you!
Ronald Reagan once remarked that the biggest lie ever told in the United States was “We’re from the government and we’re here to help.” Regardless of your private opinions concerning the Great Communicator, if you were a victim of Hurricane Harvey, take Mr. Reagan’s warning literally and do not trust anyone whose identity and good intentions cannot be easily confirmed.
Remember that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) identification cards can be easily forged by anyone with Internet access and a $50 printer! As far as the availability of “police badges” and uniforms, some otherwise-legitimate law enforcement supply businesses are reporting that they are in danger of selling out of badges and uniforms that bear a resemblance to those used by Texas police departments. A legitimate law enforcement officer will understand if you insist on verifying his or her employment status and credentials!
2. Don’t believe rumors, and take all “official statements” with a very large grain of salt.
One of the painful lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina was that, regardless of the level of sophistication to be found in modern communications technology, this technology becomes worthless when there is a power failure. This meant that the residents of New Orleans were forced to rely on “word of mouth” for most news and other emergency information.
Unless you are obeying a lawful order from the police or an emergency response worker, you are probably better off if you refuse to comply with any instructions that are not clearly in your bests interests. In particular, you should be very skeptical of anyone who offers to help protect or repair your personal property. Until proven otherwise, you must act as if this “helpful” individual is actually a thief!
Now, regarding the Internet:
Do notDo notDo not
- Do not send money to an “unmonitored” web site such as GoFundMe.com, no matter which “charity” appears to be sponsoring a “relief effort.”
- Do not volunteer any credit card or debit card numbers, or any personal information that could be used to damage you financially.
- Do not pay any “up front” or “good faith” to any business or agency that promises to represent you in a future lawsuit or to “assist” you in obtaining government aid.
3. Gather copies of all your insurance policies.
Although FEMA estimates that over 80% of Houston private residences and businesses did not have flood insurance coverage, this doesn’t mean that all damages and/or losses are not covered by other types of insurance. A careful review of your insurance policy by an experienced property damage and insurance lawyer may, in fact, reveal that you have insurance coverage that you were unaware of.
As an example, the comprehensive portion of your automobile insurance policy could pay you an amount that is equal to the “fair book value” (minus any deductibles) cost of replacing your automobile after it sat underwater for a few weeks. Renter’s insurance may also cover at least some of your losses that were associated with flood damage. Finally, if you were leasing or “renting to own” furniture, check with the company that you were dealing with when you signed your rental or lease agreement. There is always the possibility that the company carried some type of insurance coverage on its products or that it will offer to modify the terms of its agreement, pending replacement of damaged property.
4. Document your damages and losses.
Most home insurance policies require that you submit an inventory of all property that will be covered by your home insurance. If you own such a policy, you will be required to submit such an inventory at the time you submit a claim made against your insurance carrier. In order to document that fact that you did suffer losses, be ready to admit an insurance adjuster to your home or place of temporary residence but only after you are satisfied that it is safe to do so.
In closing, we hope that these suggestions will help disaster victims avoid yet another round of heartbreak. As always, anyone requiring assistance with any legal issues related to Hurricane Harvey is invited to contact our law offices to arrange a complimentary consultation with a member of our staff.