Survivors Beware! Scams, Price-Gouging Flourish After Disasters

Release Date Release Number
R4 DR-4429-MS NR 006
Release Date:
October 3, 2019

JACKSON, Miss. — Federal and Mississippi emergency management officials urge 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 of the recent storms and flooding in the state.

Common post-disaster fraud practices include:

  • Fake offers of state or federal aid:
    • Avoid scam artists who promise a disaster grant and ask for cash deposits or advance payments in full.
    • Federal and state workers do not solicit or accept money. FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) personnel never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections or help in completing applications.
    • Do not give out personal or sensitive information.
    • Report people claiming to be government workers to local police.
  • Phony housing inspectors:
    • Owners/applicants may be especially vulnerable to phony housing inspectors claiming to represent FEMA or SBA.
    • Ask to see the inspector’s identification badge. All federal employees carry official, laminated photo identification.
    • Housing inspectors have each applicant’s nine-digit registration number.
    • FEMA inspectors verify damage, but do not hire or endorse specific contractors to repair damaged property or recommend repairs. They do not determine your eligibility for assistance.
    • FEMA inspectors never ask for banking or other personal information.
  • Fraudulent building contractors:
    • Building contractors and roofers in Mississippi are required to be licensed by the Mississippi State Board of Contractors (MSBOC). It is a felony for building contractors to operate without a license in a declared disaster area.
    • When dealing with a building contractor, hire only licensed contractors and ask to see the license.
    • Verify the contractor's license by checking online at https://www.msboc.us (click “Search Contractors”) or calling MSBOC at 800-880-6161.
    • Don't rush into decisions and don't hire the first contractor who comes along.
    • Don't pay more than 10 percent down or $1,000—whichever is less.
    • Don't pay cash. Before making the final payment make sure that you are satisfied with the completed work.
    • Verify that any and all liens have been released.
    • Get two or three bids, check references, and get a written contract.
    • Keep all paperwork related to your job.
    • Contact MSBOC if you have a complaint against a contractor.
  • Bogus pleas for post-disaster donations:
    • Unscrupulous solicitors may play on the sympathy for disaster survivors. Disaster aid solicitations may arrive by phone, email, letter or face-to-face visits.
    • Verify legitimate solicitations. Ask for the charity’s exact name, street address, phone number, and web address, then call the charity directly and confirm that the person asking for funds is an employee or volunteer.
    • Don’t pay with cash.
    • Request a receipt with the charity’s name, street address, phone number and web address.
  • Price Gouging:
    • Selling goods and services at above normal prices during a state or federally- declared disaster is a crime.
    • Mississippi’s price gouging law protects people impacted by an emergency from illegal pricing on housing, gas, food, and other essential supplies.
    • Anyone who has been the victim of price gouging, or who has information regarding exorbitant pricing, should call the Mississippi Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 800-281-4418. If possible, use your cellphone to take a picture of the price or anything else to document the price. Email your pictures to aginfo@ago.state.ms.us.

There may be occasions when a FEMA representative must contact survivors to verify personal data.  You should request a FEMA identification number from the caller.  If you are unsure of the caller’s identification, call the FEMA Hotline at 800-621-3362 (TTY 800-462-7585). 

If you have knowledge of fraud, waste or abuse, you can call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or report it to the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTCComplaintAssistant.gov. You may also send an email to DHSOIGHotline@dhs.gov.

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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 (TTY 800-462-7585).

FEMA’s mission: Helping people before, during, and after disasters.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (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 nonprofit 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 visit a temporary disaster recovery center, or contact SBA’s Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center by calling 800-659-2955, emailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov or visiting SBA’s website at SBA.gov/disaster. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals may call 800-877-8339.

 

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