TEXANS WARNED TO WATCH OUT FOR POST-DISASTER SCAM ARTISTS
AUSTIN, Texas - As many Texans face the destruction caused by wildfires, state and federal emergency management officials are warning of another danger lurking around the corner: Scam artists could soon appear in your community attempting to take advantage of your vulnerability as a disaster survivor.
"As we've all seen recently, in times of crisis Texans and others from around the country take care of Texans in need. However, we need to realize some people will try to take advantage of vulnerable survivors," said Federal Coordinating Officer Kevin L. Hannes. "FEMA assistance employees and inspectors are all eager to show you their official ID. If someone isn't, be wary."
Your first and best defense is to know the most common post-disaster fraud practices:
Phony housing inspectors: If your home's damage is visible from the street, you may be especially vulnerable to the phony housing inspector who claims to represent FEMA or the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Your response should be:
- Ask to see the inspector's identification badge if he or she does not offer to show it. A FEMA or SBA shirt or jacket is not proof of someone's affiliation with the government. All federal employees and contractors carry official, laminated photo identification.
· Do not give bank account numbers to an inspector claiming to be affiliated with the federal government. FEMA inspectors never require banking information.
· Understand that FEMA housing inspectors verify damage, but do not hire or endorse specific contractors to fix homes or recommend repairs.
Fraudulent building contractors: Damage visible from the street also can bring out sham contractors who visit your home offering to begin work immediately. Most legitimate contractors will have more work than they can handle after a disaster. When you hire a contractor:
- Use licensed local contractors backed by reliable references, get a written estimate from at least three contractors, including the cost of labor and materials, and read the fine print.
- Demand that contractors carry general liability insurance and workers' compensation. If he or she is not insured, you may be liable for accidents that occur on your property.
- Ask to see the license number from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations for electricians and air conditioning contractors.
- Bogus pleas for post-disaster donations: Unscrupulous solicitors may play on your sympathy for disaster survivors. They know that many people want to help others in need. Understand that disaster aid solicitations may arrive by phone, email, letter or face-to-face visits. You can ensure the solicitation is legitimate if you:
- Ask for the charity's exact name, street address, phone number, and web address, then phone the charity directly and confirm that the person asking for funds is an employee or volunteer.
- Think before you give cash - instead, pay by check made out to the charity in case you must stop funds later.
- Request a receipt with the charity's name, street address, phone number and web address (if applicable). Legitimate nonprofit agencies routinely provide receipts for tax purposes.
Fake offers of state or federal aid: Someone claiming to be from FEMA or the state pays you a visit or calls or e-mails you asking for your Social Security number, bank account number or other sensitive information. Beware - that information may be sold to identity thieves. A twist on this scam is the phone or in-person solicitor who promises to speed up the insurance, disaster assistance or building-permit process. Then there are scam artists who promise you a disaster grant and ask for large cash deposits or advance payments in full. Here's what to do:
- Know that federal and state workers do not solicit or accept money. FEMA and SBA staff never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections or help in filling out applications. If in doubt, do not give out information, and report people claiming to be government workers to local police.
- Provide your Social Security number and banking information only when registering for FEMA assistance, either by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), TTY 1-800-462-7585, or going online at www.disasterassistance.gov or via a web-enabled phone at m.fema.gov. If you use 711-Relay or Video Relay Services, call 1-800-621-3362.
If you suspect someone is perpetrating fraud, call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721. Complaints may also be made to local law enforcement agencies and to the Texas Office of the Attorney General at 1-800-621-0508, online at www.oag.state.tx.us. Disaster survivors who have any questions can call FEMA's toll-free helpline/registration number at 1-800-621-3362.
Follow FEMA tweets about the Texas disaster at www.twitter.com/femaregion6. Other online resources are http://blog.fema.gov, www.facebook.com/fema and www.youtube.com/fema.
Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362). For TTY call 800-462-7585.
The mission of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, Texas Department of Public Safety, is to support the citizens of Texas and local jurisdictions as they plan for, respond to, recover from and mitigate the impacts of all hazards, emergencies and disasters. For more information, see: www.txdps.state.tx.us/dem.
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/femaregion6, the R6 Hurricane Preparedness website at www.fema.gov/about/regions/regionvi/updates.shtm and the FEMA Blog at http://blog.fema.gov.
SBA is the federal government's primary source of funding for the long-term rebuilding of disaster-damaged private property. SBA helps homeowners, renters, businesses of all sizes, and private non-profit organizations fund repairs or rebuilding efforts, and cover the cost of replacing lost or disaster-damaged personal property. These disaster loans cover uninsured and uncompensated losses and do not duplicate benefits of other agencies or organizations. For information about SBA programs, applicants may call 800-659-2955 (TTY 800-877-8339).