FEMA Warns N.Y. Residents to Avoid Scams in Wake of Tropical Storm Lee

October 17, 2011

New York residents are urged to be alert for potential fraud during recovery and rebuilding efforts following Tropical Storm Lee, officials with the New York State Office of Emergency Management (NYSEMO) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced on Oct. 15.

Many legitimate persons — insurance agents, FEMA Community Relations personnel, local inspectors and real contractors — may have to visit a storm-damaged property.

Officials warned, however, that survivors could encounter people posing as inspectors, government officials or contractors in a bid to obtain personal information or collect payment for repair work. The best strategy to protect oneself against fraud is to ask to see identification in all cases and to safeguard personal financial information.

Recently, residents in Tioga County in New York State have encountered a potential fraudster canvassing certain neighborhoods claiming to be a “financial consultant” allegedly doing a survey for FEMA in a bid to obtain personal financial information.

All New Yorkers are reminded that all FEMA employees and contractors wear a laminated photo identification — a FEMA shirt or jacket alone is not sufficient proof that someone works for FEMA.

FEMA inspectors may require verification of identity but will not ask for personal financial information during a home inspection. FEMA and U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) staff never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections or for help filling out applications. FEMA inspectors verify damage but do not recommend specific contractors.

Be suspicious of someone who:

• Has no physical address or proper identification
• Wants personal financial information
• Demands cash or full payment up front for home repairs
• Urges residents to borrow to pay for repairs, then steers residents to a specific lender or tries to act as an intermediary between residents and a lender
• Asks residents to sign something they have not had time to review.

To avoid scams:

• Question strangers and demand to see identification
• Never give any personal financial information to an unfamiliar person
• Never sign any document without first reading it fully. Ask for an explanation of any terms or conditions you do not understand
• Do research before borrowing money for repairs. Compare quotes, repayment schedules and rates. If they differ significantly, ask why.

If you believe you are the victim of a scam or price gouging, contact local law enforcement and report it to the New York State office of the attorney general. Call the consumer helpline or download a complaint form online at www.ag.ny.gov.

Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency, New York State Office of Emergency Management

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