Baton Rouge, LA -- In the unsettled days and weeks following a disaster, people whose lives have been disrupted must make many decisions that may be confusing and difficult to sort out. State and federal disaster recovery officials advise Louisiana residents to be extremely careful when hiring contractors to clean and repair disaster damage or remove disaster debris.
Some scam artists claim to be "FEMA certified," FEMA approved" or have "an exclusive contract with FEMA." The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) neither certifies nor endorses ANY private-sector contractor.
Individuals and government entities should be extremely cautious when hiring contractors after any disaster. "In disaster situations, scam artists are often ready to take advantage of the misfortunes of others," warns Art Jones, state coordinating officer for the recovery process.
State and federal officials recommend that before making important commitments on repairs or rebuilding of storm-damaged property, people take the time to do some checking.
The Louisiana Attorney General's Office offers the following suggestions:
- Use reliable licensed contractors and hire local contractors, if possible;
- Get a written estimate;
- Check references;
- Get proof of insurance;
- Ask for a written contract;
- Pay by check, not cash;
- Have work inspected by city building inspectors;
- If necessary, cancel a contract within three business days of signing, being sure to follow contract cancellation clauses. Send notification of cancellation by registered mail.
Persons who are having problems with a contractor or have been victims of fraud are urged to call the Louisiana Attorney General's office, Public Protection Division. The toll-free number is 1-800-351-4889.
"The recovery process can be a positive one if you take your time, talk to building and floodplain officials, and select a contractor with great care," added Federal Coordinating Officer Bill Carwile of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Anyone who has had damage caused by Tropical Storm Allison are encouraged to apply for disaster assistance by calling the FEMA toll-free registration number: 1-800-462-9029. The TTY number is 1-800-462-7585 for those who are speech- or hearing-impaired. Recovery specialists are available to take calls from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., CDT, daily, until further notice.