OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. -- Be wary of fraud. That is the warning issued to individuals and business owners affected by the Ice Storms from officials with the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management (OEM) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Home owners should be sure they are dealing with FEMA officials before providing any personal information. There is never a fee or charge for any FEMA services.
If you suspect contractor fraud, contact the Oklahoma Attorney General?s Consumer Protection Unit at 1-405-521-2029 or online at www.oag.state.ok.us your local Better Business Bureau.
Those who suspect anyone - a contractor, inspector, disaster victim or someone posing as any of these - of committing fraudulent activities should contact FEMA if they have questions or concerns about the truthfulness of claims made by third parties through word of mouth or in print, call the FEMA Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721
To safeguard against disaster-related fraud, officials recommend the following precautions:
- Ask for ID. If someone represents themselves as a federal employee, such as an inspector, but does not produce identification, residents are urged to ask to see it. A FEMA or U.S. Small Business Administration shirt or jacket is not absolute proof of someone's affiliation with the government. Federal employees carry official photo identification and applicants may receive a visit from more than one inspector or verifier.
- Safeguard personal information. Do not give personal information such as social security and bank account numbers to individuals claiming to be affiliated with the federal government. FEMA inspectors never require this information.
- Under no circumstances are FEMA representatives allowed to accept money. If someone claiming to be a federal employee or federal contractor attempts to collect money for their help, report the person and their vehicle number to your local police department.
- FEMA inspectors verify damage, but do not hire or endorse specific contractors to fix homes or recommend repairs.
Use care when hiring contractors
- Do research on contractors. You may also check with the local Better Business Bureau, homebuilders' association or trade council to see if the contracting firm has any unanswered complaints against it. Be suspicious of anyone who offers to increase the amount of your disaster damage assessment.
- Ask for proof of insurance. If a contractor is uninsured, you may be liable for accidents on the property. Make sure the contractor has disability and workers' compensation insurance.
- Get it in writing. Ask for a written estimate and check to make sure it includes all the work you expect to have done, as well as taxes and other fees. Keep in mind that some contractors charge for an estimate. Once you decide to use a particular contractor, ask for a written contract, including all tasks to be performed as well as associated costs, a timeline and payment schedule and who is responsible for applying for necessary permits and licenses. Never sign a blank contract.
- Ask for a written guarantee. It should state what is guaranteed, who is responsible and how long the guarantee is valid.
- Do not make advance payment in cash. Pay by check in order to keep a record and avoid double charges.
FEMA coordinates the federal government?s role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domest...