LONG BEACH, Miss. -- Residents and business owners in Adams, Hancock, Harrison, Washington and Wilkinson counties who were affected by Hurricane Gustav should not have to deal with adversity twice.
To prevent such occurrences, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Mississippi Emergency Management Agency offer the following tips.
Home Repairs: Do business with licensed and insured contractors and always get a written estimate of repair costs. Call the Mississippi State Board of Contractors at?1-800-880-6161 or go online to www.msboc.us to verify a contractor's licensure status.
Contractor References: Ask for and check out references from the contractor. Satisfied customers are an excellent guide to selecting a contractor.
Purchase of Used Vehicles and Watercraft: Many automobiles and watercraft were damaged by Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and Ike. Their damage can be concealed and the vehicles may be sold to unsuspecting consumers. To help prevent fraudulent sales, check the vehicle identification number (VIN) or hull identification number (HIN) in the National Insurance Crime Bureau database online at www.nicb.org.
- Personal Information: Do not give personal information such as your bank account numbers, social security number of other identification information to strangers, whether on the phone, online or in person. If you think someone has stolen your identity, call or write all three credit bureaus and ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit report. The fraud alert tells creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your existing accounts. The bureaus to contact are:
- Equifax (www.equifax.com): 1-800-525-6285, P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241.
- Experian (www.experian.com): 1-888-397-3742, P.O. Box 949, Allen, TX 75013-0949.
- TransUnion (www.tuc.com): 1-800-916-8800, P.O. Box 6970, Fullerton, CA 92634.
- Disaster Officials and Inspectors: Always ask for identification from any official who stops at your home or your temporary shelter. Among legitimate officials that may visit your home are FEMA inspectors, U.S. Small Business Administration loss verifiers, federal/state community relations teams and local building officials.
With so many people serving storm victims, it's important that each resident and business owner proceed with caution and take the time to carefully inspect the identification of those who may be visiting them. If a visitor refuses to show his or her ID, contact local law enforcement authorities immediately.
Unfortunately, as has been the case in previous disasters, scam artists appear on the scene claiming to be government officials and say they can help you qualify for financial disaster relief for a "processing fee." FEMA does not charge fees for processing disaster aid.
Others may masquerade as safety inspectors or utility repairmen and say immediate work is required and charge a fee for unnecessary work.
- Reporting Hurricane Fraud: To report suspected fraud or scams contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Mississippi Attorney General's Office at 1-800-281-4418 or online at www.ago.state.ms.us...