But, unfortunately, disasters also bring out criminals looking to prey on survivors by offering fraudulent services.
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.
There is never a fee to apply for FEMA disaster assistance or to receive it. 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.
There is no fee for FEMA or U.S. Small Business Administration property damage inspections.
Keep these consumer safety tips in mind when working with contractors:
- 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 suspect anyone – an inspector, disaster survivor, or someone posing as one of these – of fraudulent activities, call our toll-free Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721, or your local law enforcement officials.