FEMA warning of Ida scammers

FEMA handout

The Federal Emergency Management Agency — you know it as FEMA — is warning Jersey residents,  especially those in The Observer’s readership area, who suffered damage during Hurricane Ida, to be weary of scammers who are already preying on the vulnerable with defrauding schemes that too often look legitimate.

The agency says scammers do their best to make homeowners, business owners and the elderly, especially, believe they’re in line for federal assistance for repairs when in reality, they’ll wind up losing even more.

As such, federal and state emergency-management officials are urging residents to vigorously watch for and report any suspicious activity. When a disaster strikes, FEMA says, unscrupulous people may pose, at your door, online or elsewhere as official disaster-aid workers looking to help survivors complete their applications.

Unfortunately, common post-disaster fraud practices include:

Fake offers of state or federal aid

Note: federal and state workers do not solicit or accept money. FEMA and U.S. Small Business Administration personnel never charge survivors for applying for disaster assistance, inspections or help in completing applications.

Phony property inspectors

FEMA inspectors will never ask for your Social Security number. No government disaster assistance official will ever call you to ask for banking account information. If you doubt a FEMA representative is legitimate, hang up and call the FEMA Helpline at (800) 621-3362 or TTY (800) 462-7585 from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. EDT, to report the incident. Additionally, FEMA’s housing inspectors never charge a fee to inspect your property.

Phony building contractors

A FEMA housing inspector’s job is to verify damage. FEMA does not hire or endorse specific contractors to fix homes or recommend repairs. It recommends hiring a reputable engineer, architect or building official to inspect your home. An unethical contractor may create damage to get work.

FEMA says whenever there’s doubt, report suspicious behavior to your local authorities.

In hiring a legitimate contractor, always use one whose licensed and local contractor and who has reliable references. Require a written contract from anyone you hire. Be sure to get a written receipt for any payment. And, never pay more than half the cost of the job up front.

FEMA says if one estimate sounds too good to be true, especially if it comes well lower than another, it probably is too good to be true. Many unethical contractors provide low-ball bids that seem attractive, but they’re often uninsured, may never do the work and/or may charge substantial cancelation fees.

In dealing with contractors, ask if they have done this type of repair work before. Also ask if they will purchase necessary permits, and if the work will be inspected. Be sure the contract spells out who pays for required permits. If a contractor they can do the work without permits, chances are you’re dealing with a scammer or an illegitimate business.

Try to get three separate bids for a job. Don’t be pressured into making a quick decision. Insist on receiving a written estimate or contract. And don’t sign anything you don’t understand and never sign contracts that have blank spaces.

Keep records by always pay for repair work by check or credit card and avoid double charges. Unless absolutely necessary, never pay with cash.


FEMA also warns to be aware of fraudulent charities. Watch out for irreputable and phony organizations. Criminals exploit survivors by sending fraudulent communications through email or social media and by creating phony websites designed to solicit contributions. They often look like they’re coming from legitimate sources and may even contain known charity logos. Scour the emails — if they come from an address that looks like it doesn’t include the charity’s name, it’s a fraud.

The Better Business Bureau, FEMA says, has a list of reputable charities that have been approved by the Wise Giving Alliance at www.Give.Org.

For more information about avoiding charitable giving scams, www.go.usa.gov/xM5Rn. Report scams, fraud and identity-theft contact by calling FEMA’s toll-free Disaster Fraud Hotline at (866) 720-5721 or call your town’s police.

For the latest information on Ida, visit www.fema.gov/disaster/4614. Follow FEMA Region 2 on Twitter at www.twitter.com/FEMAregion2.



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