NEW YORK – As many New Yorkers work to recover from Hurricane Sandy, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials are warning of another danger: Phony building contractors and other scam artists often appear in communities struggling to recover from a disaster.
“In times of crisis, New Yorkers pull together,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Michael F. Byrne. “However, some people will try to take advantage of vulnerable survivors. We strongly recommend that folks take a few simple steps to make sure they’re dealing with an honest person.”
Here are a few of the most common post-disaster fraud practices:
Phony housing inspectors: If home damage is visible from the street, an owner/applicant may be especially vulnerable to the phony housing inspector who claims to represent FEMA or the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). An applicant should ALWAYS:
- 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.
- Do not give bank account numbers to an inspector claiming to be affiliated with the federal government. FEMA inspectors never require banking information.
It is important to note that FEMA housing inspectors verify damage, but do not hire or endorse specific contractors to fix homes or recommend repairs. They do not determine your eligibility for assistance.
Fraudulent building contractors: Damage visible from the street also can bring out fraudulent contractors who visit an applicant’s home offering to begin work immediately. When hiring 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.
Bogus pleas for post-disaster donations: Unscrupulous solicitors may play on the sympathy for disaster survivors. They know that many people want to help others in need. Disaster aid solicitations may arrive by phone, email, letter or face-to-face visits. Verify legitimate solicitation:
- 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.
- Don’t pay with cash — instead, pay by check made out to the charity in case funds must be stopped 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: Beware if anyone claiming to be from FEMA or the state visits, calls or emails asking for an applicant’s Social Security number, bank account number or other sensitive information. Beware — that information may be sold to identity thieves or used to defraud. 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 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 New York State Attorney General’s office in New York at 212-416-8300 or go to their web site at: www.ag.ny.gov.
Disaster survivors who have any questions can call FEMA’s toll-free helpline at 1-800-621-3362.
For more information on New York’s disaster recovery, click www.fema.gov/disaster/40805.
More information about common of forms fraud watch our video: FEMA Media Library: Avoiding Frauds And Scams. You can follow FEMA on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FEMA . Also visit our blog at www.fema.gov/blog.