HAMPTON, Va. -- Residents in southeastern Virginia affected by hurricane-related flooding should exercise caution when contracting for home repairs, submitting claims, replacing damaged items, and performing other post-disaster actions. According to Tom Davies, Federal Coordinating Officer, "It's unfortunate, but disasters often bring scam artists into the area, to take advantage of the situation. We want to alert disaster victims of this possibility."
Residents should be suspicious of any offer that promises to speed up any insurance or government grant, program or claims process; or that requires up-front cash or check deposits. Some scam artists even claim to be "FEMA certified." This is not true. No FEMA or Virginia Department of Emergency Services (VDES) employee or contractor will ask for or accept a fee for any service. All FEMA and VDES personnel carry photo identification - do not hesitate to ask for it.
To avoid being cheated, residents should:
- Check with local, state, or federal government officials on any offer by a third party that promises to speed up government or insurance company response times.
- Work only with trusted local contractors.
- Ask for and check references.
- Get all agreements in writing.
- Ask for a written guarantee on the work to be done.
- Agree to have the work inspected by a qualified and independent inspector before final payment.
- Be sure that all agreements include a thorough description of the work, the grade and cost of materials, the agreed starting and completion dates and the agreed upon total cost.
- Avoid paying large sums in advance of the work.
- Avoid being "pressured" into signing any document.
- Ensure licensed personnel perform electrical, plumbing, and structural work.
- Avoid individuals who offer to help fill out forms for a fee.
- Avoid giving to charity organizations that you have never heard of or are new.
- Call the Virginia Better Business Bureau at (800) 451-1525 to check out any business before signing a contract.
- Additional information on scams to avoid can be found on the Internet at http://www.ag.uiuc.edu/~disaster/facts/fraud/html