MERRILLVILLE, Ind. -- Watch out for scam artists. This is the warning from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) issued to residents who are in the process of repairing their homes from the August storms.
"Unfortunately, after a disaster, scam artists often try to take advantage of others," said IDHS Executive Director J. Eric Dietz. "Residents should be especially alert for phone or door-to-door solicitors who hand out make-shift flyers and promise to speed up the insurance or building permit process or ask for large cash payments before the work is done."
"Most contractors and service providers in the building industry are honest," said FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Donald Keldsen. "But all too often disasters attract dishonest people. In most cases, if the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is."
Dietz and Keldsen recommend the following tips before hiring a contractor:
Look first to licensed local contractors who have performed well in the past.
Ask the contractor for the names and phone numbers of past customers.
Check with home improvement stores and trade associations who may keep lists of contractors who work in the community.
Get more than one estimate.
Make sure the contractor you select is licensed and insured.
Get both the estimate and contract in writing.
When possible, pay by check or money order, not with cash.
Always insist on a receipt. (It is important to save these receipts and submit them to FEMA for possible reimbursement of eligible expenses.)
Make sure that local building permits are obtained, if required, before work is started.
If you suspect contractor fraud or have complaints, contact the Indiana Attorney General Consumer Fraud Hotline at 1-800-382-5516, or online at www.indianaconsumer.com, or contact your local Better Business Bureau.
If you suspect fraud, waste or abuse involving FEMA disaster assistance programs, report it to FEMA's Inspector General at 1-800-323-8603.
FEMA inspectors are visiting many Lake County neighborhoods and all will have proper identification. Homeowners should ask to see it. Remember, FEMA and SBA inspectors never charge applicants for disaster assistance or for inspections.
To register for FEMA assistance and schedule an inspection, call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585 for the speech or hearing impaired. Both lines are operational from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week, until further notice. Residents may also register online at www.fema.gov.
FEMA coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror.