BATON ROUGE, La. -- As many Louisianians work to recover from Hurricane Isaac, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials are warning of a danger lurking around the corner: Phony building contractors and other scam artists could soon appear in your community attempting to take advantage of your vulnerability as a disaster survivor.
“In times of crisis, most Louisianians and others from around the country pull together for one another. There are those, however, who will try to take advantage of vulnerable survivors,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Mike Hall. “We strongly recommend that folks take a few simple steps to make sure they’re dealing with an honest person.”
Your first and best defense is to know the most common post-disaster fraud practices:
Phony housing inspectors: If your home’s damage is visible from the street, you may be especially vulnerable to the phony housing inspector who claims to represent FEMA or the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). You should:
- Ask to see the inspector’s identification badge if he or she does not offer to show it. A FEMA or SBA shirt or jacket is not proof of someone’s affiliation with the government. All federal employees and contractors carry official, laminated photo identification.
- Avoid giving bank account numbers to an inspector claiming to be affiliated with the federal government. FEMA inspectors never require banking information.
- Understand that FEMA housing inspectors verify damage, but do not hire or endorse specific contractors to fix homes or recommend repairs.
Fraudulent building contractors: Damage visible from the street also can bring out sham contractors who visit your home offering to begin work immediately. Most legitimate contractors will have more work than they can handle after a disaster. When you hire a contractor:
- Use licensed local contractors backed by reliable references, get a written estimate from at least three contractors, including the cost of labor and materials, and read the fine print.
- Demand that contractors carry general liability insurance and workers’ compensation. If he or she is not insured, you may be liable for accidents that occur on your property.
- Check the state of Louisiana’s website for a list of licensed and registered contractors. That website is http://www.lslbc.louisiana.gov/findcontractor.asp.
Bogus pleas for post-disaster donations: Unscrupulous solicitors may play on your sympathy for disaster survivors. They know that many people want to help others in need. Understand that disaster aid solicitations may arrive by phone, email, letter or face-to-face visits. You can ensure the solicitation is legitimate if you:
- Ask for the charity’s exact name, street address, phone number, and web address, then phone the charity directly and confirm that the person asking for funds is an employee or volunteer.
- Think before you give cash — instead, pay by check made out to the charity in case you must stop funds later.
- Request a receipt with the charity’s name, street address, phone number and web address (if applicable). Legitimate nonprofit agencies routinely provide receipts for tax purposes.
Fake offers of state or federal aid: Someone claiming to be from FEMA or the state visits, calls or emails you asking for your Social Security number, bank account number or other sensitive information. Beware — that information may be sold to identity thieves or used to defraud you. A twist on this scam is the phone or in-person solicitor who promises to speed up the insurance, disaster assistance or building-permit process. Then there are scam artists who promise you a disaster grant and ask for large cash deposits or advance payments in full. Here’s what to do:
- Know that federal and state workers do not solicit or accept money. FEMA and SBA staff never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections or help in filling out applications. If in doubt, do not give out information, and report people claiming to be government workers to local police.
- Provide your Social Security number and banking information only when registering for FEMA assistance, either by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), TTY 1-800-462-7585, or going online at www.disasterassistance.gov or via a web-enabled phone at m.fema.gov. If you use 711-Relay or Video Relay Services, call 1-800-621-3362.
If you suspect someone is perpetrating fraud, call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721. Complaints may also be made to local law enforcement agencies and to the Louisiana Office of the Attorney General at 1-800-351-4889 or online at www.ag.state.la.us. Disaster survivors who have any questions can call FEMA’s toll-free helpline at 1-800-621-3362.
For more information on Louisiana disaster recovery, click www.fema.gov/disaster/4080 or www.gohsep.la.gov. You can follow FEMA on Twitter at www.twitter.com/femaregion6 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FEMA. Also visit our blog at www.fema.gov/blog.