TRENTON, N.J. -- The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (NJOEM) report it is an unpleasant fact that disasters sometimes bring out scam artists, price gougers and dishonest operators who try to capitalize on the misfortunes of others.
According to the New Jersey Attorney General’s office, there are steps that individuals can take to protect themselves against unscrupulous business practices. As residents rebuild in the aftermath of severe storms and flooding, Attorney General Peter C. Harvey advises residents to be aware that fraudulent home repair contractors exist and to consider the following before hiring a contractor:
- Try to work with local contractors that you trust.
- Make sure contractors are licensed with the Home Builder’s Licensure Board, and that they are bonded and insured.
- Get more than one estimate and always get the repair agreement in writing.
- The contract should specify materials to be used, provide start and finish dates, and a payment schedule.
- Never make a large payment up front for the work.
- Final payment should only be made when the job has been satisfactorily completed.
- Insist on identification if someone tells you that they work with a government agency or utility.
If you suspect that someone is trying to take advantage of you or the federal government, contact your local law enforcement agency or the Attorney General’s Consumer Affairs division at 1-800-242-5846. If calling outside of New Jersey, please call 973-504-6200.
FEMA’s Federal Coordinating Officer, Peter Martinasco says, “There is also a system in place to identify the small number of people who try to cash in on others’ misfortune by misrepresenting themselves as disaster victims in order to receive assistance that is intended for persons who are truly in need.”
A number of methods are used to detect fraud including an automated system that crosschecks information with other agencies and applicants are asked about insurance coverage to weed out duplication of benefits. Field inspections are conducted to verify losses and damages for every person who applies.
Conducting audits and investigating possible fraudulent activities is a standard procedure in all federal disaster operations. Potential cases of fraud or misuse are referred to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).
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 the National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Fire Administration.