Hurricane survivors warned to beware of frauds and scams

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State and federal recovery officials have urged Floridians to watch for and report any suspicious activity or potential fraud.

As government agencies and charitable groups continue to provide disaster assistance, con artists, identity thieves and other criminals may attempt to prey on vulnerable survivors. The most common post-disaster fraud practices include phony housing inspectors, fraudulent building contractors, bogus pleas for disaster donations, fake offers of state or federal aid and charging for free services.

Scam attempts can be made over the phone, by mail, by email, through the internet or in person. Con artists are creative and resourceful. It is important to remain alert, ask questions and request identification when someone claims to represent a government agency. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it should be questioned.

Here are some tips from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to safeguard against fraud:

             Ask to see ID badges. All FEMA representatives always carry an identification badge with a photograph. A FEMA shirt or jacket is not proof of identity. Anyone feeling unsure or uncomfortable during an encounter should contact local law enforcement.

             Keep your FEMA registration number safe. It is your key to application information. Do not share it with others.

             Safeguard personal information. No state or federal government disaster assistance agency will ask for financial account information. Unless you call an agency yourself, do not provide personal information over the phone. It can lead to identity theft. In general, be cautious when giving personal information such as social security or bank account numbers to anyone. FEMA will only request an applicant’s bank account number during the initial registration process. FEMA inspectors will require verification of identity but will already have your registration number.

             Beware of people going door to door. People knocking on doors at damaged homes or phoning homeowners claiming to be building contractors could be con artists, especially if they ask for personal information or solicit money.

             Know that federal workers do not solicit or accept money. FEMA and Small Business Administration (SBA) staff never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections, or to help fill out applications. FEMA inspectors verify damages, but do not involve themselves in any aspect of the repair nor recommend any contractor.

Those who suspect fraud may call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at (866) 720-5721 (toll free). Complaints may also be made to local law enforcement agencies.

The quickest way to apply for federal assistance is online at www.disasterassistance.gov. Survivors may also apply by phone at (800) 621-3362 (Voice, 711 or VS) or (800) 462-7585 (TTY). The helpline numbers are open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week until further notice.

For recovery information, visit www.FEMA.gov/IrmaFL or follow @FemaRegion4 on Twitter and on FEMA's Facebook page.

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