AUSTIN, Texas -- Although it has been more than two months since Hurricane Ike devastated Texas' upper Gulf Coast, residents should be aware that swindlers continue to operate throughout the disaster area, warn officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Texas Governor's Division of Emergency Management (GDEM).
"Don't assume the scam artists are looking for prey elsewhere just because it's been a while since Ike struck," said State Coordinating Officer Joan Haun. "As long as the recovery effort goes on, these unscrupulous individuals will continue to target Texans. We are urging residents to remain vigilant."
There are three common scams following a disaster - phony contractors soliciting work, bogus pleas for post-disaster donations, and fake offers of help getting state or federal aid - but residents should never underestimate the ingenuity of those who are out to make a fast buck.
Texans should be especially alert for phone or door-to-door solicitors who promise to speed up the insurance, disaster assistance or building-permit process, and those who ask for large cash deposits or advance payments in full.
"We are in the midst of the recovery effort and people are eager to get their lives back to normal," said Federal Coordinating Officer Stephen DeBlasio. "Our message to Texans is to slow down and question these offers."
Those who suspect someone of engaging in unscrupulous activities should call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721. Complaints may also be made to local law enforcement agencies and through the Texas Attorney General Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-621-0508.
Texans should call the Fraud Hotline if:
- Someone claiming to be from FEMA comes to their home, calls or emails them and asks for their Social Security number, bank account number or other sensitive information.
- FEMA requires that applicants supply personal information when registering for assistance, either by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), TTY 1-800-462-7585, or online at www.FEMA.gov.
- Personal information is also required when filing out loan applications.
- Texans should be suspicious if they are asked to provide such information at any other time.
- Someone claiming to be a building contractor knocks on their door and offers to make repairs or clean up debris.
- The best way to avoid this scam is to use licensed local contractors, ask for references and check them before entering into a contract.? Also, residents should ask for a written estimate from at least three contractors ? and read the fine print before signing any contract.
- Someone asks them to donate to a Hurricane Ike relief fund, but they never heard of the charitable organization, or the person soliciting the donation requests the check be made out to a private individual.
- Simply ask the person soliciting the donation for the exact name and phone number of the charity, research the charity if it is unknown, and then call to confirm the person is an employee or volunteer.
- Someone offers a "deal" that just sounds too good to be true.
FEMA coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror.