Disaster recovery officials caution residents to be on the alert for scam artists using old and new tricks to obtain vital information or take advantage of storm-weary survivors. Be aware of the following scams used by con artists after a disaster:
People may pretend to be employed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or other government agencies, such as the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) or public utilities. By going door-to-door to storm-damaged homes, or by phone or on the internet, con artists may try to obtain personal information such as Social Security and bank account numbers.
False Payment or Bribe
Imposters may ask for some form of service payment, or bribe – something no FEMA, SBA or federal agency employee should ever do. FEMA-contracted housing inspectors assess damage but do not determine cost estimates. FEMA does not hire or endorse specific contractors to fix homes or recommend repairs.
Con artists may pose as insurance specialists or expeditors, claiming they can convince FEMA to increase home repair damage aid or the insurer to pay a larger settlement. The scammers ask the applicant or policyholder to sign a contract giving them a percentage of the “increased” payment. The essence of the con is to take a percentage of the damage grant or policy settlement that would be given anyway. FEMA always deals directly with each applicant and is always willing to consider an appeal by sending a new inspector to review damaged property or claimed losses.
Home Repair Scams
Unregistered home improvement contractors may take the disaster survivor’s money and disappear, leaving unfinished work and unsafe homes. Before hiring a contractor, New Jersey residents can check with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-242-5846 to make sure the contractor is registered, as well as ask for a copy of the contractor’s liability insurance and verify the policy is valid. All contracts should be in writing, and reviewed before being signed. Full payment should not be made until the work is completed. The local police department should be notified of suspected fraud.
Excessive price increases are illegal. New Jersey residents can check with the New Jersey Consumer Affairs office at www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov or call 800-242-5846 if you suspect the prices are too high.
Before donating, people should investigate to be sure the organization asking for donations is registered to solicit in your state and ask how the money will be used.