11/06/2012 04:22 pm ET Updated Jan 06, 2013

Tips to Avoiding Post-Sandy Scams

For Women & Co. by Mercedes Cardona, OMH Communications

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, those of us in the affected areas have begun to assess and repair post-storm damage. So while trying to get life back to normal, look out for a few common scams:

Repair Scams
Home repair scams are the bane of large recovery efforts like the one expected after Sandy. The Better Business Bureau even has a nickname for them: "Storm Chasers."

The BBB recommends avoiding scams by staying calm, shopping around, and taking care with contracts and payments. You want to get back to normal, but don't be rushed into signing any contracts or writing checks. Get multiple estimates, check references, and verify contractors are licensed and insured. Don't add to your problems by dealing with fly-by-night outfits.

Be critical of any offers and get everything in writing, including costs of materials and labor and the scope of the work. Get the contractor's full contact information and license number, along with the dates of start and end of work in the document. Never pay cash, and never in advance, warns the BBB.

A lot of the same warnings go for tree removal after the storm, but the BBB also suggests checking if the company trims trees according to industry standards. If the tree service employee mentions "topping a tree" or "lion-tailing," walk away. Those are not accepted practices; they save money, but can kill your trees.

Used Car Scams
We've all seen the sunken cars in flooded streets and parking garages. If you're in the market for a used car in the next few months, beware of a seller trying to pass off a soggy wreck, warns the car-shopping site

Look out for discolored carpeting, dirt built up in unusual places, musty odors, fogged-up inside lamps and rust and flaking metal in the car's undercarriage. Edmunds recommends getting a vehicle history online before buying a car. A car branded as a "salvage title" by the state's motor vehicle agency was declared totaled by an insurer, and one with a "flood title" was in deep enough water to flood the engine compartment.

Charity Scams
Disasters bring out the charitable side on most of us, but they also bring out the crooks. Charity Navigator, a nonprofit that rates charities, noted that most of the best known charities in the country are responding to the storm recovery effort, so there are plenty of established groups accepting donations. It and has posted a list of some of its top-rated charities working on disaster relief.

Giving money is always best, but be careful with telemarketing, email or text-based appeals. If you're going to donate online, go to the charity's website directly, and don't use a link sent by someone else. Charity Navigator has an explainer online with tips for handling charity appeals in times of crisis.

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