MADISON, Wis. -- After a disaster, often times scam artists will try to take advantage of those impacted. Officials in several Midwestern states have issued warnings about telephone finagling and door-to-door con artists. Their advice: Guard your personal information. If you suspect somebody is not on the up and up, hang up the phone or close the door. Then call the police.
?Don?t give these guys an inch,? said Administrator Johnnie Smith of Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM). Smith encourages all flooded residents seeking recovery to remember the old saying, ?If it seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.?
Recently, scammers have been reported in a Midwestern state wearing official-looking shirts while trying to talk residents out of their bank account information or social security numbers.
WEM and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) suggest three safety procedures to guard your personal information when you apply for disaster assistance or conduct follow-up conversations with FEMA:
- If you register at www.fema.gov or call the FEMA toll-free helpline numbers, 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585, your information is handled securely.
- Your bank information will only be discussed if you wish to have any disaster assistance grants deposited directly into your bank account. This discussion will occur only through the FEMA telephone helpline or www.fema.gov. FEMA representatives never knock on your door to ask for your bank information.
- You are assigned an identification number when you apply. After you apply, FEMA workers who help you should be able to tell you this number if you ask.
Here are some cautions to heed:
- FEMA never asks for money for any programs or services.
- Before you hire a contractor for any work, double check the contractor?s reputation with these reliable sources: neighbors, the Better Business Bureau, or your area home builders association or trade council.
- Do not cooperate with anyone who offers to increase the amount of your disaster-damage assessment.
- Do not give cash to anyone doing your repairs or cleanup work; pay by check or credit card to keep a record, avoid double charges and gain leverage in case of a dispute.
- Federal law gives consumers a three-day reconsideration period to cancel unsolicited door-to-door sales of more than $25. If you need to file a complaint, then call the Federal Trade Commission?s Consumer Response Center toll-free at 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).
- If necessary, you can cancel a home improvement contract within three days by following procedures for cancellation listed in the contract. Send the notification by certified mail with a return receipt to be signed by the contractor.
- Report contractor fraud to your local police department or the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection at 800-422-7128 or 608-224-4953.
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.