As Sandy survivors continue to register for disaster assistance with FEMA and many others begin the process of cleaning and repairing their homes, we wanted to remind everyone that as you look for contractors and companies to assist you with your recovery process, be mindful of scams and scam artists.
Although many businesses, voluntary, faith-based, and community-based organizations, government agencies and committed citizens come together to try and meet the needs of the affected individuals and communities, disasters can also bring out criminals looking to prey on survivors by offering fraudulent services.
To help you spot fraud, here is a list of consumer safety tips to keep in mind when applying for disaster assistance and working with contractors:
- There is never a fee to apply for FEMA disaster assistance or to receive it.
- There is no fee for FEMA or U.S. Small Business Administration property damage inspections.
- The only ways to register for FEMA help are to: call 800-621-3362 (TTY: 800-462-7585), visit www.DisasterAssistance.gov or m.fema.gov from a smartphone or Web-enabled device, speak to a FEMA employee at a Disaster Recovery Center.
- Government workers will never ask for a fee or payment. They wear an official government photo ID. Watch out for middle men who promise you will receive money, especially if they ask for an up-front payment.
- Get three written estimates for repair work. Then check credentials and contact your local Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce to learn about any complaints against the contractor or business.
- Before work begins, make sure you get a written contract detailing all the work to be performed, the costs, a projected completion date, and how to negotiate changes and settle disputes.
- Make sure the contract clearly states who will obtain the necessary permits. Consider having a lawyer review the contract if substantial costs are involved. Keep a copy of the signed contract.
- If the contractor provides any guarantees, they should be written into the contract clearly, stating what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee and how long the guarantee is valid.
- Pay only by check or a credit card. A reasonable down payment may be required to buy materials for some projects, but don't pay anything without a signed contract.
If you’re a survivor and haven’t registered for assistance yet, please see #3 above, because registering for assistance is the first step.
While we’re discussing scams, we wanted to address a few rumors and potential scams that have recently been reported and mentioned on many social media channels:
- FEMA is providing $300 for food assistance - This is FALSE.
- FEMA is hiring for cleanup crews and inspectors - This is FALSE.
- FEMA is giving out cash cards to disaster survivors - This is FALSE.