AUSTIN, Texas – State and federal recovery officials encourage Texas residents to watch for and report any suspicious activity or potential fraud from scam artists, identity thieves and other criminals who may try to prey on survivors vulnerable due to the October severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds and flooding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does not endorse any commercial businesses, products or services. FEMA encourages survivors to be especially vigilant for these common post-disaster fraud practices:
• Fraudulent building contractors. When hiring a contractor:
o Use licensed local contractors backed by reliable references.
o Demand that contractors carry general liability insurance and workers’ compensation.
o Don’t pay more than half the costs of repairs upfront.
• Bogus pleas for post-disaster donations: Unscrupulous solicitors may play on the emotions of disaster survivors. Disaster aid solicitations may arrive by phone, email, letter or face-to-face visits.
o Verify legitimate solicitations by asking 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.
o Don’t pay donations with cash.
o Request a receipt with the charity’s name, street address, phone number.
• Fake offers of state or federal aid:
o Beware of visits, calls or e-mails — claiming to be from FEMA or the State of Texas — asking for an applicant’s Social Security number, bank account number or other sensitive information. Avoid scam artists who promise a disaster grant and ask for large cash deposits or advance payments in full.
o Federal and state workers do not solicit or accept money. FEMA and U.S. Small Business Administration staff never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections or help in filling out applications.
• Phony housing inspectors: Homeowners and registered FEMA applicants may be vulnerable to phony housing inspectors claiming to represent FEMA or the SBA.
o Inspectors have each applicant’s nine-digit registration number. FEMA inspectors NEVER require banking or other personal information.
o The job of FEMA housing inspectors is to verify damage. Inspectors do not hire or endorse specific contractors to fix homes or recommend repairs. They do not determine eligibility for assistance.
If you suspect fraud, call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721. If you are the victim of a home repair scam or price gouging, call the Office of the Texas Attorney General at 800-252-8011. Texas homeowners and renters who register for disaster assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), prior to the Jan. 25 deadline, are encouraged by recovery officials to "stay in touch." Survivors changing their address or phone numbers should update that information with FEMA. Missing or erroneous information could result in delays getting a home inspection or in receiving assistance.
Survivors with questions regarding the application or the appeals process, or who need to register for assistance may visit online at DisasterAssistance.gov or by phone (voice, 711 or relay service) at 800-621-3362. (TTY users should call 800-462-7585.) The toll-free lines are open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. Multilingual operators are available. For more information on Texas recovery, visit the disaster web page at www.fema.gov/disaster/4245, Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/femaregion6 and the Texas Division of Emergency Management website, https://www.txdps.state.tx.us/dem.
All FEMA disaster assistance will be provided without discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex (including sexual harassment), religion, national origin, age, disability, limited English proficiency, economic status, or retaliation. If you believe your civil rights are being violated, call 800-621-3362 or 800-462-7585(TTY/TDD).
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.
The SBA is the federal government’s primary source of money for the long-term rebuilding of disaster-damaged private property. SBA helps businesses of all sizes, private non-profit organizations, homeowners and renters fund repairs or rebuilding efforts and cover the cost of replacing lost or disaster-damaged personal property. These disaster loans cover losses not fully compensated by insurance or other recoveries and do not duplicate benefits of other agencies or organizations. For more information, applicants may contact SBA’s Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center by calling 800-659-2955, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or visiting SBA’s website at www.sba.gov/disaster. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals may call 800-877-8339.
Visit www.fema.gov/texas-disaster-mitigation for publications and reference material on rebuilding and repairing safer and stronger.