SALEM, Va. -- Con artists are still trying to defraud victims of Tropical Depression Jeanne, disaster officials said today.
One woman received a telephone call from a person posing as a federal agent, telling her to call an 800 number and follow the directions, said Marianne C. Jackson, who is heading up the recovery effort for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The woman was asked for her bank account and routing numbers, and was told this was necessary to receive a $10,000 grant, Jackson said.
“Fortunately, the intended victim ignored the instructions and called our Disaster Recovery Center in Salem,” she said. “This was absolutely the right thing to do.”
Jackson said staff at the center told her the call was a fake, and the woman called authorities.
There are only two toll-free numbers where storm victims can get information on their claim, said Michael M. Cline, state coordinating officer for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM).
Those numbers are 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. They are the same numbers to call to register, Cline said.
"Con artists often show up after disasters," Cline said. "We want people to be aware and be careful."
All FEMA and VDEM workers wear official ID, Cline said, and victims should not be hesitant to ask to see it.
Jackson said FEMA never charges for aid. “We think if the woman had followed those instructions, she would have been told to send money somewhere,” she said. “Everyone should understand that would never happen.”
Suspected fraud should be reported to the Consumer Protection Hotline of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 1-804-786-2042 or 1-800-552-9963. Those lines are open from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
President Bush signed a major disaster declaration for the cities of Roanoke and Salem, and the counties of Alleghany, Craig, Giles, Montgomery, Floyd, Patrick and Roanoke on October 18. Botetourt County was added later. The declaration begins the process of releasing federal aid to homeowners, renters and business owners who suffered losses in the flood.
On March 1, 2003, FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. FEMA’s continuing mission within the new department is to lead the effort to prepare the nation for all hazards and effectively manage federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates proactive mitigation activities, trains first responders, and manages Citizen Corps, the National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Fire Administration.