Avoiding Post-Disaster Scams

If it sounds too good to be true ... it probably is.

Scam artists are always looking for an opening. What better opportunity — a time when individuals are most vulnerable — than the time that follows a disaster?

"In the aftermath of a disaster, it is common for unscrupulous people to try to take advantage of victims," said Carlos Mitchell, FEMA’s federal coordinating officer. "People need to be aware that con artists will exploit disaster victims by preying on their fears and vulnerability."

If a disaster does strike, artists in the affected area can protect themselves and their businesses from scams of several common types. You’ve already got enough to deal with! What follows are practical ways to avoid falling prey to fraud.

What to Look Out for: Common Post-Disaster Scams

  1. Someone who claims to be from FEMA comes to your home or studio — or calls or e-mails you — and asks for your Social Security number, bank account number, FEMA registration number, or other sensitive information.

  2. Someone claiming to be a building contractor knocks on your door and offers to make repairs, clean up debris, or speed up the insurance, disaster assistance, or building-permit process.

  3. Someone asks for a relief fund donation for an unknown charitable organization — or the person soliciting the donation requests the check be made out to a private individual.

  4. Telemarketers solicit donations or insurance-related work. Fraudulent telemarketers take advantage of people's stress following disasters.

  5. Contractors ask for large cash deposits or advance payments in full.

  6. You receive a promise of large amounts of money for disaster victims. (FEMA/State disaster assistance funds are only sent to applicants by electronic funds transfer [EFT] or through the U.S. mail.)

 

If you’re unsure about the authenticity of a FEMA or Small Business Administration (SBA) representative, call this toll-free number: 1-800-621-FEMA, ext. 3362, and select the helpline option to speak with an operator. For those with a speech or hearing impairment, call TTY: 1-800-462-7585.


FEMA Photo

 

 Federal workers will never solicit or accept money. FEMA and SBA staff will never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections, or help in filling out applications.(“Getting Help from FEMA and Other Major Relief Providers”)

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Ways to Protect Yourself

  1. Only use licensed contractors.  Verify their identity and legitimacy. (Call your local Department of Labor and Industry to determine if a contractor is registered with the state.) Be wary of anyone who wants cash or full payment up front.

  2. Get at least three written estimates for repair work. Check credentials and contact your local Better Business Bureau and Chamber of Commerce to see if there are any complaints against the contractor ro business.

  3. Before work begins, obtain a written contract detailing the work to be performend, costs, completion date and procedures to negotiate changes and settle disputes. Demand and check references before entering into a contract — and read the fine print before signing. Refuse to sign a contract with blank spaces.

  4. Ask for proof of insurance — i.e., liability and Worker's Compensation.

  5. If the contractor provides any guarantees, they should be in the contract, and clearly state what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee, and how long the guarantee is valid.

  6. Make final payments only after the work is completed. Do not pay in cash, use a check, or as FEMA recommends, aa credit card so you can dispute the payment later if necessary. A reasonable downpayment may be required to pay for materials needed, but do not make any payments without a contract.

  7. Safeguard personal information. Never give out social security numbers or credit card numbers to someone you have not fully checked out. FEMA will never ask you for bank account information or your Social Security number unless you initiate the call.  ( “Getting Help From FEMA and other Major Relief Providers”).

  8. Always check out an organization, such as a charity or nonprofit, before sending money or allowing a courier to pick up money at your home or office. (For more on researching nonprofits and charities, see 9. below.)

  9. Donate only to charities you know, or simply ask the person soliciting the donation for the exact name, address and phone number of the charity. Research the charity — GuideStar is a useful online tool for doing this, and a search on “research charities” brings up several others. Then call the charity or nonprofit organization, to confirm that the person is an employee or volunteer.

  10. Never act immediately. If someone presses you, tell them you’ll get back to them later. All reputable organizations will give you time to think things over.

Government Workers Will Never Ask for a Fee or Payment

  1. There is never a fee to apply for FEMA disaster assistance or to receive it.

  2. There is no fee for FEMA or U.S. Small Business Administration property damage inspections.

  3. Government workers will never ask for a fee or payment. They wear official badges. Watch out for middlemen who promise you will receive money, especially if they ask for an up-front payment. FEMA inspectors carry the registration number assigned to the applicant at the time they register.

Reporting Fraud

Those who suspect they’ve been contacted by someone engaging in fraudulent activities should contact the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721. You can also contact:

  • your state Attorney General’s office, Consumer Protection Division,

  • local law enforcement,

  • your state Chamber of Commerce and local Small Business Association.

Report suspected insurance fraud to the State Auditor's Office, Insurance Department.

To learn more:

“Getting Help from FEMA and other Major Relief Providers”

FEMA’s website:http://www.fema.gov/areyouready/. Use the search function to look up post-disaster fraud.

NOTE: The only way to apply for federal and state disaster assistance is to call the FEMA registration number at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), TTY: 1-800-462-7585, or register online at www.disasterassistance.gov.

FEMA’s Hotline: 1-800-323-8603

The National Insurance Crime Bureau: 1-800-447-6282

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