As federal assistance has made its way to the state of Alabama during its great need, it is important to be aware that there are individuals that are not out there to help, but to hurt. WVUA-FM would like to stress to the Tuscaloosa community and other communities affected by the tornado last week to be on guard as some individuals are trying to appear as FEMA employees desiring personal information and other unnecessary information.
Michael Widomski, FEMA Deputy Director of Public Affairs out of Washington, D.C. says, ” Those who suspect anyone – an inspector, disaster survivor or someone posing as one of these – of fraudulent activities should call FEMA’s toll-free Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.”
Widomski also offers consumer safety tips from federal and state agencies:
- 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) or visit www.DisasterAssistance.gov. Or visit m.fema.gov from a smartphone or Web-enabled device.
- Government workers will never ask for a fee or payment. They wear a 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.
FEMA’s temporary housing assistance and grants for public transportation expenses, medical and dental expenses, and funeral and burial expenses do not require individuals to apply for an SBA loan. However, applicants who receive SBA loan applications must submit them to SBA loan officers to be eligible for assistance that covers personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses.
More information about making disaster-related repairs or rebuilding after a disaster is available online at www.fema.gov/rebuild.
Please be sure to pass information about FEMA and FEMA fraud along to individuals who are still without power or a source of media information.