Q: How severe were the December storms in Iowa?
A: In our state’s 175-year history, Iowans are no strangers to natural disasters. For the better part of the year, Iowans managed recovery efforts from the derecho that swept across the state in August 2020. The National Weather Service identified last year’s wind storm as a progressive derecho. Now 15 months later, a rare December storm system produced an unprecedented late-year sweep of tornadoes across America’s Heartland. It’s being called a serial derecho. According to an analysis by the National Weather Service, at least 45 tornadoes have been confirmed so far. Hurricane-force winds reached up to 120 mph across the Upper Midwest and Central Plains. No matter what the experts call it, Iowans across the state braced for the worst. One life lost is one too many. The dangerous storms killed one Iowan in eastern Iowa when the driver’s truck overturned from high winds. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses were without power. Now the road to recovery is underway as homeowners, farmers, communities and businesses clean up tree damage and begin building, barn and home repairs. Shredded trees and demolished farm equipment greeted Iowans the next day. Iowa Gov. Reynolds declared a disaster in more than half of Iowa’s 99 counties. Homeowners may apply for up to $5,000 in state assistance. Homeowners may apply for the Individual Assistance grant program, or call the toll-free hotline (877)347-5678. The inconvenience and expense of fixing roofs, cleaning mud-caked windows and removing downed limbs is never easy, especially during the holidays and beginning of the cold winter season. Iowa enjoys a long-standing tradition of neighbor helping neighbor and this natural disaster is no different. However, as a watchdog for good government and taxpayers, I know it’s important for Iowans to be vigilant for fraudsters who take advantage of a bad situation at the expense of disaster victims. For example, local law enforcement in Kentucky are urging their residents to be wary for fraudulent disaster relief workers posing as legitimate FEMA staff after historic storms ravaged the Blue Grass State. Scam artists may set their sights on Iowa and elsewhere.
Q: What are some consumer protection tips for Iowans to know?
A: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises homeowners and renters to work with licensed and insured contractors. Always get more than one estimate for repairs and clean-up work. Check references. And, do business with a written contract and make sure all blank spaces are filled. Ask for IDs and check their trucks for local contact information. Never pay in cash; don’t make the final payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction. Scams after weather-related disasters crop up because home owners typically are at their wit’s end for assistance. Imposters may pretend to be government officials, safety inspectors or utility workers. They may pretend to be a trusted source to steal personal information or take your money. Don’t sign your insurance claim or check over to a contractor. Iowans are known for rolling up their sleeves and pitching in to help a neighbor in need. Many also share their generosity by opening their wallets. Unfortunately, scammers also set their sights on the generosity of others. The FTC shares consumer tips for charitable giving. Bogus organizations may claim your donation is tax-deductible. Check the IRS’ Tax Exempt Organization Search tool to verify. Scam artists may try to pressure or rush donors to give. They may use names that sound similar to the names of real charities. Do your research before giving. Check out the charity in question with the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch or Guide Star. Don’t click on unsolicited links in an email. When in doubt, use trusted organizations, including local relief organizations. Learn more at ftc.gov/charity. Lastly, report suspicious activity and scams to the FTC at ReportFraud.FTC.gov. Exposing wrongdoers can help others avoid a costly scheme when they’re managing the aftermath of a natural disaster.