Lynchburg, VA -- Southwest Virginia residents affected by the February flooding should exercise caution when contracting for home repairs, submitting claims, and replacing damaged items. Federal Coordinating Officer Justo Hernandez said, "It's unfortunate, but disasters often bring scam artists into the area who will take advantage of the situation."
President Bush issued a disaster declaration for a total of 22 localities in Virginia on March 27. Individuals and households in five counties and three cities were made eligible for FEMA grants for housing assistance and low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. These eight areas are: Buchanan, Dickenson, Montgomery, Russell, Tazewell and Wise counties and the cities of Norton, Roanoke and Salem.
Residents should be suspicious of any offer that promises to speed up the insurance or government claims process or requires cash or check deposits. Some scam artists claim to be "FEMA certified." FEMA does not certify contractors. However, contractors who undertake projects in Virginia are required to be licensed through the state's Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation. A licensed contractor has met standards established by the Board of Contractors to ensure that the licensee possesses the character, knowledge and skills necessary to practice without harm to the public. Should you have reason to believe that your contractor may not have complied with the rules and regulations of the Board for Contractors, you should call 804-367-8504.
Other tips to avoid being cheated are:
- Check with local, state or federal officials on any offer by a third party that promises to speed up government or insurance company response time.
- Visit FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers for additional information on hiring contractors and obtaining building permits.
- Work only with trusted local contractors.
- Check references.
- Get all agreements in writing.
- Ask for a written guarantee on work to be done.
- Require contractor to have work inspected by a qualified and independent inspector before final payment.
- Be sure all agreements include a complete description of the work, materials, starting and completion dates, and total cost.
- Avoid paying large sums in advance.
- Don't be pressured into signing any document.
- Ensure that electrical, plumbing and structural contractors are licensed.
- Don't pay individuals to help fill out forms.
- Call the Virginia Better Business Bureau (1-800-451-1525) to check on any business before signing a contract.
Anyone who suffered a loss as a result of the February winter storms and flooding are encouraged to apply for assistance, 1-800-621-FEMA (1-800-621-3362), weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.