SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- State and federal officials are asking everyone who may have suffered a loss during the severe storms, flooding and tornadoes that began Oct. 17 to be on the alert for people trying to cheat them.
"I'm sad to say that even in times of disaster and loss, there are some people out there who prey on victims who have already suffered enough," said Federal Coordinating Officer Robert E. Hendrix. "We intend to turn over every report of fraudulent activity to law enforcement for investigation and prosecution, and we urge people to report it to us."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (DEM) are coordinating a joint effort to uncover fraud attempts. People who encounter fraudulent scams should report them to their local law enforcement, the Attorney General's Office of Consumer Protection at 1-800-337-3928, or FEMA's Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-800-323-8603.
"The State of Texas will not tolerate anyone trying to cheat either individuals or the taxpayers," said State Coordinating Officer Ed Laundy. "This kind of activity during a time of disaster recovery will be sought out and stopped."
Individuals affected by the disaster should be aware of the following:
- No legitimate FEMA or other government inspector, telephone operator or staff will ever ask a disaster assistance applicant for money, their bank account PIN number, or other compensation for taking an individual's application. (However, if applicants want their assistance funds to be electronically deposited into their bank account, they will have to provide a bank account and bank routing number to the operator taking their call. Applicants should only provide this information when they have initiated the call to the FEMA teleregistration number.)
- The ONLY way to apply for disaster assistance from FEMA is by calling the toll-free teleregistration number at 1-800-462-9029. If someone gives you a form they claim is for FEMA, report them immediately to FEMA's Disaster Fraud Hotline listed above.
- FEMA does NOT issue vouchers to flood victims to purchase a new home.
- Never sign a blank contract. Get any agreement in writing, and make sure the contract covers all the work to be accomplished, all other costs, a payment schedule and who is responsible for obtaining necessary permits.
- Legitimate contractors and other service providers normally do not require more than one-third as down payment. Don't give anyone an advance payment in cash, and make sure your payment schedule is clearly spelled out in your contract.
- Be suspicious of anyone who offers to increase the amount of your disaster damage assessment.
- Be wary of door-to-door repairmen offering their services following a disaster. Legitimate contractors rarely solicit by going door-to-door. Shop around first before hiring repairmen for the job. Conduct business only with established, licensed and insured workers.
- Be leery of offers to help you fill out loan or grant forms for a fee. If you need help filling out your Small Business Administration (SBA) loan package, call the SBA toll-free number at 1-800-366-6303 or the FEMA Helpline at 1-800-525-0321 (TTY 1-800-660-8005).
- FEMA does not endorse individual loan companies or contractors, so be wary of any business that claims it has governmental support.
- It is always wise to read carefully any document, application, voucher or other paper related to disaster assistance. If you have any questions about the legality of a document claiming to come from FEMA, call the Helpline.