Westfield, Mass -- Massachusetts residents and business owners recovering from the August 27-29 effects of Tropical Storm Irene need to be alert for and report potential fraud during recovery and rebuilding efforts.
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.
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:
- 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.
- Before you sign a contract, be sure you also get a written cancellation notification policy.
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.
More information about making disaster-related repairs or rebuilding after a disaster is available online at www.fema.gov/rebuild.
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.