03-16-2012

Beware of scam artists who set up shop in storm-ravaged areas, FEMA says

Kentucky Press News Service

FRANKFORT - Survivors of the Feb. 29 and March 2 tornadoes, straight line winds and flooding and storms in Kentucky should be on the alert for scam artists who may approach you in person, by telephone or via the Internet.

Be alert when your doorbell rings. People going door-to-door to damaged homes or telephoning disaster survivors and claiming to be building contractors could be frauds. If visitors or callers solicit personal information such as Social Security or bank account numbers, or for money, they are not legitimate.

Emails which offer some form of assistance but require personal data such as Social Security numbers or bank account and credit card numbers may be fraudulent and can enable identity theft. FEMA will never ask for this information via email or other electronic communication, according to a press release from the federal agency.

Federal disaster workers do not solicit or accept money. Remember, FEMA and SBA staff members never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections or for help in filling out applications. If in doubt, do not give out information. You should report people claiming to be government workers to local police.

FEMA inspectors only verify damage. They do not determine the amount of a federal grant. FEMA inspectors do not hire or endorse specific contractors to repair damage.

To safeguard against disaster-related fraud, FEMA and Kentucky Emergency Management officials suggest the following precautions:

-Ask for official identification. If someone represents him or herself as a federal employee such as an inspector, but doesn't produce identification, you should ask to see the identification. A FEMA shirt or jacket is not absolute proof of someone's affiliation with the government.

-Inspectors sent by FEMA, or verifiers from the SBA, carry official, laminated photo identification. Applicants may receive a visit from more than one inspector or verifier.

-Safeguard personal information. Do not give your Social Security number, bank account or FEMA registration number to individuals claiming to be affiliated with the federal government. FEMA inspectors never require this information.

-When you called FEMA to register, you were asked for your Social Security number. If you asked for direct deposit, you also gave a bank number. If a FEMA representative makes a follow-up call to you, he or she will ask for the last four digits of your Social Security number and then he or she will verify other critical information which may include your banking information, depending on the reason for the call.

-If you suspect anyone of committing fraudulent activities, whether it is a contractor, inspector, disaster survivor or someone posing as any of these, call the Disaster Fraud Hotline toll-free at 800-323-8603. Also let your local law enforcement agencies know.

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.