SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- If you were affected by the severe storms and tornadoes that struck Illinois March 11-13, you should be aware that some unscrupulous people might try to take advantage of you. The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warns Illinois storm victims today of fraudulent schemes that may occur in disaster-affected areas.
Potential schemes involve con artists phoning victims, or going door-to-door to damaged homes, and asking for personal information such as Social Security or bank account numbers. Only when the disaster victim makes that first call to the FEMA application line will the caller be asked for a Social Security number and bank account number, if direct deposit is preferred. On any follow-up calls to applicants, a FEMA representative may ask for the last four digits of your Social Security number.
Ask for Official ID Before Letting Anyone Inspect Your Disaster-Damaged House.
Disaster recovery officials advise disaster victims that loss verifiers and damage inspectors are in the affected areas. FEMA schedules inspections to verify losses within a few days after residents have filed applications. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will also inspect an applicant's damages after the SBA has received a completed loan application. Inspectors carry official photo identification and do not charge anything for this service.
“Applicants should ask for identification from anyone identifying themselves as damage inspectors,” Ron Sherman, federal coordinating officer, said. “And if someone posing as a federal employee or federal contractor attempts to collect money for their help, report the person and the vehicle number to the local police department.”
Consumers should remember that under no circumstances are FEMA or SBA representatives allowed to accept money. FEMA inspectors assess damage but do not hire or endorse specific contractors to fix homes or recommend repairs.
“You must first apply for disaster assistance before inspectors will view your damaged property,” Sherman said. “If you sustained damage and have not yet applied, please call the FEMA toll-free number 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). Those with hearing or speech impairment should call TTY 1-800-462-7585. Both lines are open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.”
Use Care Hiring Contractors
Disaster officials caution residents not to sign contracts or make down payments without first receiving written estimates from contractors, and to avoid offers which seem too good to refuse.
“I will be vigilant against those who seek profit illegally at the expense of the Illinois citizens who suffered damage from these severe storms,” said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. “Consumers need to be wary of those who would victimize a second time through home repair frauds and price gouging.”
Also the following precautions should be followed when hiring someone:
- Check references, especially if they make unsolicited contact with you or have come from out of town after a natural disaster;
- Ask if this particular job requires a permit. Most construction and home repairs of major significance require a permit from the county or city. Do not let contractors talk you into applying for the permit in your name. If they do not want to be known to local officials, they may be hiding from a bad reputation.
- Get a written estimate detailing the work to be done, materials to be used, and setting a completion date. Make sure there are no blanks on amounts to be filled in.
- Do not pay the entire amount due up front.
- Make sure you have their contact information. Businesses with established addresses may be safer.
Residents can check with loc...