OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. -- The destruction in Atoka County caused by the April 14 tornado has left some Oklahomans vulnerable to fraudulent offers of help. The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management (OEM), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) say fraudulent operators may be active in the affected areas.
It’s important to be aware of three scenarios that always seem to pop up after a disaster. People in Atoka County should know the following examples by no means exhaust the possibilities.
Phony contract workers: After life-sustaining needs for food, water and shelter are met, repair contracting is at the top of the list of most-needed services. Residents whose homes or apartments were damaged need the services of a contractor and are eager to find one. If the home’s damage is plainly visible, a phony contractor may see it as an opportunity to make fast money. The “contractor” knocks on the door offering to make repairs. This is an offer homeowners should refuse. Legitimate contractors will have more work than they can handle after a disaster. What are some of the ways to avoid this situation?
- Use licensed local contractors, ask for references and check them before entering into a contract.
- Ask for a written estimate from at least three contractors, including the cost of labor and materials. Read the fine print.
- Make sure the contractor carries general liability insurance and workers' compensation. If he or she is not insured, you may be liable for accidents that occur on your property.
Fake offers of help getting state or federal aid: Some fraudulent operators walk around carrying a clipboard with official-looking forms; this is no proof they are with a state, federal or voluntary agency serving those affected by the disaster. What should you do if you suspect an offer for help is phony?
- Don’t reveal personal information when you are unsure of the person or organization. FEMA-contracted inspectors call to schedule an appointment before visiting a home, always wear a photo ID and know the applicant’s name and registration number.
- FEMA, SBA and OEM Community Relations (CR) Liaisons will contact residents in person, distribute flyers and provide general information to the community. They will always wear clothing identifying the agency they work for and will display valid photo identification cards; people are encouraged to ask to see a photo id before engaging with CR liaisons.
- Contact FEMA. Call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585 for people with speech or hearing impairments. FEMA is the place to get state or federal help and to find out what other organizations offer disaster assistance.
- Never pay a fee for help. Remember, FEMA, the state and SBA never charge for disaster assistance.
Bogus solicitors: It can be hard to resist online pleas for a donation to help survivors. Many who may not have suffered damage themselves are often eager to help fellow Oklahomans in need. A solicitation for a donation to a “tornado-relief fund” may arrive by e-mail, by phone or via a knock at the door. What can you do to be sure the request for funds is legitimate?
- Research fully the charitable organization they claim to represent by getting an exact name and phone number.
- Call the charity directly and confirm the person asking for funds is an employee or volunteer.
- Ask how the funds will be used.
- If you decide to give, write a check in the name of the charity and get a receipt.
For more information on Oklahoma disaster recovery, click on http://www.fema.gov/...