BURLINGTON, Vt. -- Unfortunately, when there are disasters, swindlers often follow, seeking to profit from others' misfortune. State and federal officials caution Vermonters to be on the lookout for the many different schemes they may encounter.
Some scammers may falsely claim to work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency or another government agency, such as the U.S. Small Business Administration. All legitimate FEMA and SBA workers have official identification and can prove they are who they claim to be.
Con artists often aim to find out personal information, including Social Security and bank account numbers that can then be used for identity theft. When those affected by the storm first register for assistance, they need to provide a Social Security number as well as a bank account number, if they request direct deposit of FEMA aid. On any follow-up calls or visits, however, a FEMA representative may ask for the last four digits of the applicant's Social Security number, but never the whole number. The bank account number does not need to be provided again.
Some scammers may tell homeowners they need to pay a fee to be put on a list to have their homes repaired. Some ask for a payment to assure receiving FEMA assistance. In fact, there is never a charge for filling out a FEMA or SBA assistance application and all applications are evaluated using the same rules. No legitimate FEMA employees or contractors charge for any FEMA services, including damage inspections. In fact, FEMA or SBA representatives are not allowed to accept money under any circumstances.
Vermonters should also be aware that some swindlers who seek personal information or illegitimate payments may claim to be volunteers from charitable organizations.
Defrauders continue to invent new ways to swindle consumers. Recently, one created a Smartphone application for the Android operating system that purports to enable users to register for FEMA disaster assistance but, in fact, it does not.
Also, be aware of contractors who demand large up-front deposits to make repairs. Some may be scammers who then disappear. Others engage in price gouging on materials and stealing building supplies.
If you think you have been victimized by fraud or suspect fraudulent activity, please report it to the Vermont Attorney General's office; telephone 802-656-3183. FEMA also maintains a disaster fraud hotline at 866-720-5721 for use by anyone wishing to report suspected incidents of fraud.
Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362). For TTY call 800-462-7585.
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.
SBA disaster loan information and application forms may be obtained by calling the SBA's Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 (800-877-8339 for people with speech or hearing disabilities) Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET or by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications can also be downloaded from www.sba.gov or completed on-line at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/.
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, ...