SALEM, Ore. -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Oregon Emergency Management (OEM) are warning residents against a particular kind of fraud that may follow in the wake of a major disaster - identity theft.
People living in the disaster area may be contacted by phone or e-mail from someone posing as a state or federal official.
The imposter claims there is a disaster assistance grant or loan for the resident which requires the resident's bank account number, Social Security number, or other personal information to complete the processing.
In some cases, the imposter may even ask for a "processing fee" up front to be paid by either credit card or an online payment service.
A twist on the same scheme is to pose as a volunteer offering to help fill out an application for disaster assistance. The real point, of course, is to steal the victim's banking information.
"Don't be fooled by scams like these," warns Glen R. Sachtleben, federal coordinating officer for Oregon disaster recovery.
"Neither FEMA nor the state will ever call you asking for that information or for a fee of any kind," he explained. "The only time FEMA collects banking information is when the applicant first registers for assistance and requests direct deposit for aid funds. That occurs only when the applicant calls FEMA, not the other way around."
FEMA and state representatives carry photo identification. Ask to see it. If still unsure, call FEMA to verify at 1-800-621-FEMA(3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585 for those with special speech or hearing needs. Another clue is to look for official clothing, such as a FEMA or state of Oregon shirt or jacket.
"Individuals who would attempt to scam disaster victims are not welcome in Oregon," Abby Kershaw, state coordinating officer, said. "We must all be on alert and report anything that appears suspicious to the appropriate authorities."
Those suspecting fraud may report it by calling the FEMA Inspector General's fraud hotline (800) 323-8603 or the State of Oregon Attorney General's consumer protection hotline at (503) 378-4320 (Salem area only), (503) 229-5576 (Portland area only), or toll-free at 1-877-877-9392. Complaints can be filed online at www.doj.state.or.us Hotline hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
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.