How to Avoid FEMA Scams [AUDIO]
If Hurricane Sandy damaged your home or property, knowing there is support in the way of FEMA funding can provide some reassurance, but while the federal agency is set up to help, they're cognizant of the scammers out there.
Before you receive any kind of funding from FEMA, your claim must be investigated by one of FEMA's 900 New Jersey based building inspectors. FEMA spokesman Darrell Habisch says once residents register online, by phone, or in person, they will receive an application number which will always be referenced for interaction with FEMA or the Small Business Association.
"The only time people will be asked for their social security number or any personal information whatsoever will be when they register." Ten days after you register, Habisch says you will be contacted to schedule a visit from an inspector.
"The inspector will have a laminated photo id clearly indicating that they are a FEMA contractor. They will also have a photo of that person on the identification card." Adding the inspector will not ask for any personal identification or information beyond the assigned application number.
Official inspectors will never ask for money or personal information explains Habisch, and only inspect the exterior and/or interior of your property as appropriate.
Conversely, Habisch says just as precautions make sure residents aren't getting scammed by phony inspectors, the inspectors take measures to make sure they aren't getting scammed as well. The inspectors are an important factor in making sure anyone filing fraudulent FEMA applications doesn't take money away from the people who need it. It falls on the inspector's expertise to differentiate.
"It's not that difficult to tell the difference between wind damage that happened say six months ago and wind damage that happened due to the current disaster."
He notes it's rare that people will try to collect large sums of money to rebuild a home that was destroyed prior to any major disaster arriving. Instead, it's smaller claims that often get turned away because they don't qualify.
"Especially with debris removal, some folks may want to take their entire debris that's not disaster related and have the city, township, or county haul that away."
However he says local officials use their own judgment on deciding what is legitimate storm debris and what isn't.