COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Disaster officials caution survivors of the recent flooding to be on the lookout for scam artists pretending to be employed by The Federal Emergency Management Agency or another government agency, such as the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Authorized FEMA or SBA personnel are required to wear identification at all times, officials say.
Consumers should know that FEMA inspectors never require personal information such as Social Security and bank account numbers. A Social Security or bank account number is requested if an applicant requests direct deposit during the first phone call to the FEMA registration line.
On any follow-up calls or visits, a FEMA representative may ask for the last four digits of your Social Security number, but never the whole number.
There have been reports of scammers telling homeowners they need to pay money to be put on a list to get their home repaired. FEMA registration is free. There is never a charge for filling out a FEMA or SBA registration or application.
FEMA specialists at Disaster Recovery Centers do not charge to assist storm survivors with their application for disaster aid.
Survivors should remember FEMA or SBA representatives are not allowed to accept money under any circumstances.
If you think you have been victimized by fraud or suspect fraudulent activity, please report it to the Missouri State Attorney General’s office at 1-573-751-3321. FEMA also maintains a disaster fraud hotline at 1- 866-720-5721 which is for use by anyone wishing to report suspected incidents of fraud.
Use the following tips to reduce your chances of being defrauded:
- Get at least two estimates on work in writing before choosing a contractor to repair your home or remove debris.
- Never enter into or sign a contract while reviewing it quickly -- review the contract and check with the Attorney General's Office and the Better Business Bureau for complaints and information regarding the company and or individuals representing the company.
- Ask how long the company has been in business and their physical location.
- Know where your contractor's supplies are coming from and get itemized paid receipts for all purchases.
- Ask for insurance and licensing information, and make sure the company has the proper work permits before work begins.
- Never pay cash up front before the job is completed. Paying by check is the best method.
- Watch for price-gouging on materials and work to be provided.
- Don't pay full price for services you have yet to receive. Make full payment only when the terms of your agreement have been met.
- Always get a phone number and address for the company represented, and then check it out.
- Ask for local references and check with them about the work provided.
- If you notice out-of-state plates, logos on vehicles, etc., make note of the information.
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.