JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Many businesses - some legitimate and some not so legitimate - follow disaster events and offer services of various kinds to those who have suffered losses. Be cautious of anyone offering assistance, especially for a fee.
Con artists often lack proper identification, charge a fee to have a person's name put on a list or to have forms filled out, or offer to increase the amount of your disaster damage assessment. No one but the Federal Emergency Management Agency can determine the amount of your FEMA assistance and no one but the U.S. Small Business Administration can determine the amount of your loan.
Just because someone wears a FEMA or SBA shirt or jacket is not absolute proof of someone's affiliation with an agency. Under no circumstances are FEMA and other agency representatives allowed to accept money. FEMA inspectors assess damage, but do not hire or endorse specific contractors.
Remember this good rule of thumb: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Residents who have questions concerning the authenticity of any credential should contact their local law enforcement officials. Beware of common ploys, such as phone calls from people asking for personal information. The only time FEMA will ask for personal banking information is when a registrant for FEMA assistance requests direct deposit for checks. Never give out personal information casually over the telephone. If in doubt about a caller, calling them back may help verify their identity.
The Missouri Attorney General's Office maintains a Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-392-8222. A complaint may be filed online at ago.mo.gov/consumercomplaint.htm. Also, FEMA encourages anyone witnessing fraudulent activity to contact the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General hotline at 1-800-323-8603.
Below are valuable tips property owners may use in hiring contractors, before or after a disaster:
- Get a written estimate. Compare services and prices before making a final decision. Also, read the fine print. Some contractors charge a fee for a written estimate, which is often applied to the
- Check references. Contractors should be willing to provide names of previous customers. Call several former customers who had similar work done to make sure they were satisfied with the job.
- Use a reliable, licensed contractor, and check out a contractor before you sign a contract or pay any money. Checking with local authorities, the Missouri Attorney General's Office or the Better Business Bureau may be helpful.
- Ask for proof of insurance. Make sure the contractor carries general liability insurance and workers' compensation. If the contractor is not insured, the homeowner may be liable for accidents that occur on the property.
- Insist on a written contract. A complete contract should clearly state all tasks to be performed, all associated costs and the payment schedule. Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces. Make sure the contract clearly states who will apply for the necessary permits or licenses. You may want to have a lawyer review the contract if substantial costs are involved. Keep a copy of the contract for your records.
- Get guarantees in writing. Any guarantees made by the contractor should be written into the contract. The guarantee should clearly state what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee and how long the guarantee is valid.
- Obtain a local building permit, if required. Permits may be required for site work, other than demolition, and for reconstruction. Contact your local government for permit information....