Those who suspect anyone – an inspector, disaster survivor or someone posing as one of these – of fraudulent activities should call FEMA's toll-free Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721. Complaints may also be made to local law enforcement agencies and through the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs at 404-651-8600 or 800-869-1123 (toll-free in Georgia outside the Atlanta metro area).
Here are consumer safety tips from federal and state agencies:
- There is never a fee to apply for FEMA disaster assistance or to receive it.
- There is no fee for FEMA or U.S. Small Business Administration property damage inspections.
- The only ways to register for FEMA help are to call 800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585) or visit www.DisasterAssistance.gov. Or visit m.fema.gov from a smartphone or Web-enabled device.
- Government workers will never ask for a fee or payment. They wear a photo ID. Watch out for middle men who promise you will receive money, especially if they ask for an up-front payment.
- Get three written estimates for repair work. Then check credentials and contact your local Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce to learn about any complaints against the contractor or business.
- Before work begins, make sure you get a written contract detailing all the work to be performed, the costs, a projected completion date, and how to negotiate changes and settle disputes.
- Make sure the contract clearly states who will obtain the necessary permits. Consider having a lawyer review the contract if substantial costs are involved. Keep a copy of the signed contract.
- If the contractor provides any guarantees, they should be written into the contract clearly, stating what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee and how long the guarantee is valid.
- Pay only by check or a credit card. A reasonable down payment may be required to buy materials for some projects, but don't pay anything without a signed contract.
- If you cancel a contract, it should be done within three business days of signing. Send notification of the cancelation by registered mail. Be aware that in Georgia some types of emergency home repair contracts cannot be cancelled! For important information on what sorts of contracts can be cancelled, visit http://consumer.georgia.gov/consumer-topics/canceling-a-contract.Do not sign completion papers or make the final payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction. A reputable contractor will not threaten you or pressure you to sign if the job is not properly finished.
FEMA's temporary housing assistance and grants for public transportation expenses, medical and dental expenses, and funeral and burial expenses do not require individuals to apply for an SBA loan. However, applicants who receive SBA loan applications must submit them to SBA loan officers to be eligible for assistance that covers personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses.
– Georgians recovering from the severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds and flooding from April 27-28 need to be alert for and report potential fraud during recovery and rebuilding efforts.