In the aftermath of a disaster, survivors should watch out for people trying to take advantage during their most vulnerable time. There are a few steps survivors can take to protect against fraud and ensure they’re dealing with honest people.
When receiving offers for state or federal aid
Identity thieves are always looking for ways to find their next targets, and some are using offers of state or federal aid to steal personal information from disaster survivors. Reports of scams are not uncommon during these times, but there are ways to protect your personal information.
It is important to know that:
- Federal or state workers never solicit or accept money for disaster assistance, for inspections or to fill out applications.
- There are no authorized persons who can speed up the insurance, disaster assistance or building-permit process.
- You only need to provide your Social Security number and banking information when registering for disaster assistance. Afterward, you should use your assigned case number.
To protect against identity thieves and online scams:
- Never give money to any person claiming to be a state or federal worker, or someone who claims they can speed up the application process for disaster assistance.
- Only supply your Social Security number and banking information when registering for FEMA assistance by calling 800-621-3362 (Voice, 7-1-1/Relay) or TTY 800-462-7585. You may also register online at DisasterAssistance.gov or via smartphone or tablet at m.fema.gov.
When hiring a contractor
Especially if the damage to your home is visible to the outside, fraudulent contractors may come offering to help you rebuild.
Be suspicious if a contractor:
- Demands cash or full payment up front.
- Demands you sign something you haven’t had time to review.
- Urges you to borrow from a specific lender or tries to act as an intermediary between you and a lender.
To ensure a contractor is legitimate and you get the best work for your money, follow these guidelines:
- Get written estimates and reliable references from at least three licensed contractors.
- Ask to see proof of a contractor’s license and building permit.
- Compare quotes, repayment schedules and rates. Make sure the estimates include cost information for labor and materials.
- Demand that contractors carry general liability insurance and workers’ compensation.
- Read the fine print of any estimate or agreement before signing.
- Do not sign over an insurance settlement check to a contractor.
When donating to disaster-related charities
Some scam artists play on sympathy for disaster survivors. To make sure you are giving to a legitimate organization:
- Call the charity directly to verify the solicitor is a legitimate volunteer or employee.
- Only pay by check in case funds must be stopped later.
- Request a receipt with the charity’s contact information.
Additional steps to protect against fraud
If you suspect someone is perpetrating fraud, call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.
Consumers in New York State encountering these issues may also report them to the New York State Department of State using the online Consumer Complaint Form at dos.ny.gov or by calling their toll-free hotline at 800-697-1220.