CHARLESTON, W. Va. -- West Virginia residents living within the 25 counties declared eligible for individual assistance should take care when hiring contractors to repair damages from the flooding, officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warned today.
"Fraudulent contractors often come to storm-hit areas to take advantage of people's misfortunes," FEMA's Federal Coordinating Officer Justo Hernandez said. He urged residents to be especially careful of door-to-door solicitors who ask for large deposits or for entire payments in advance.
"Unfortunately, there are scam artists ready to capitalize on the misfortune of others," West Virginia's State Coordinating Officer John Pack added. Pack, Director of the West Virginia Office of Emergency Services (WVOES), offered flood victims the following advice:
- Use reliable contractors and ask for references.
- Select contractors known in the community and recognized for their competence.
- Get written estimates from several contractors and compare prices before deciding to hire a contractor.
- Make sure contractors carry general liability insurance.
- Sign only contracts and work orders that thoroughly identify the work to be performed, estimated cost of work and warranty on work.
- Signed agreements should include procedural forms for changes to original work orders.
- Get a complete contract.
- Pay by check. Do not make on-the-spot cash payments.
Homeowners wanting to verify legitimate contractors can call the Better Business Bureau or FEMA's Helpline at 1-800-525-0321 or 1-800-462-7585 for people who are speech or hearing impaired. Consumers who have problems with a contractor, or have been victims of fraud, can initiate a complaint by calling the West Virginia Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division Hotline at 1-800-368-8808.
Federally declared counties made eligible for federal individual disaster assistance through the Feb. 28 presidential declaration include Barbour, Braxton, Cabell, Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, Harrison, Jackson, Kanawha, Lewis, Lincoln, Marion, Mason, Monogalia, Preston, Putnam, Randolph, Ritchie, Roane, Taylor, Tucker, Tyler, Upshur, Wetzel and Wirt.
In addition to the 25 counties eligible for Individual and Public Assistance, the county of Pocahontas was declared eligible for Public Assistance, which is limited solely to infrastructure repairs to state governments, county-owned structures and other municipal properties in the state.