McALLEN, Texas -- In the aftermath of Hurricane Dolly, state and federal officials are warning those who suffered property damage and other losses to guard their money and identity from falling into the hands of unscrupulous scam artists.
Don't become a victim twice by allowing fraudulent contactors, telephone finagling and in-your-face scam artists to add to your losses. Here are some things to know about The Federal Emergency Mangement Agency 's disaster assistance programs.
Applicants should register by calling FEMA toll-free 800-621-FEMA (3362). Those with a speech or hearing impairment may call TTY 800-462-7585 and apply. English, Spanish and multilingual operators are available to speak to applicants. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. until further notice. If applicants have access to a computer they can register for assistance online at www.fema.gov, or at one of the DRCs.
When registering, applicants should have the following information readily available:
- Current and pre-disaster (damaged) address;
- Current telephone numbers;
- Social Security number; and
- Insurance coverage, policy number(s) and agent's name if possible.
Registration takes about 20 minutes and once all essential information is recorded an application number is assigned to the applicant. This number should always be used to identify your case.
An applicant with disaster-related damages will then receive a telephone call from a FEMA-contracted inspector, who will set up an appointment within a few days to view the damage and file a report. When the inspector arrives, always check their inspector identification. Inspectors do not determine eligibility or set compensation, and never ask for money.
A bank account number will only be discussed if an applicant asks a government agency to make a direct deposit into their account. Here are some cautions to heed:
- FEMA and other government agencies such as the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) will never ask for money for their services;
- Before bringing in a contractor for an estimate, find out if there is a charge.
- Check with your neighbors, the local Better Business Bureau, homebuilders' association or trade council to see if the contracting firm has any complaints against it;
- Do not cooperate with anyone who offers to increase the amount of your disaster-damage assessment;
- Do not give cash to anyone doing work for you; pay by check or credit card in order to keep a record, avoid double charges and have additional leverage in case of a dispute.
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.
A common scam is someone posing as an inspector or loss verifier of disaster damaged property. Some of these "inspectors" charge a fee for what they do. Some may have official-looking identification used to get inside residents' property. If someone comes to your door that says they are with a government agency or utility, insist on seeing identification. If you have any doubts, call the police.
Beware as well of fraudulent home repair salesmen or contractors. Before replacing an appliance check to see whether or not it is usable. Often all that is needed is to clean the item thoroughly and start it up. Check with the manufacturer for any special recommendations.
Other scams can come in the form of phone calls from people claiming to be with FEMA or SBA. Residents are asked if they have registered with FEMA for disaster assistance. If it is confirmed they have registered, the caller will ask for a Social Security number and income information....