For Immediate Release:
May 28, 2007
OFFICIALS ADVISE CAUTION AGAINST POTENTIAL FRAUD IN WAKE OF DISASTER
State and federal officials caution those who were affected by the May10-13 disaster in Craig, Latimer, Ottawa and Pittsburg counties to be wary of callers and visitors who ask for personal and financial information, as well as access and money. Scam artists often come into areas following disasters.
One common ploy is for scammers to call those affected by disaster and express a need to collect or verify bank account information. Others include coming to homes and misrepresenting themselves in order to gain entrance. Still another is asking for pay to aid applicants in getting their assistance. And yet another is posing as a contractor, asking for full or partial pay upfront and taking the money without doing the work or without doing the work correctly.
In general, officials say residents should guard their personal information. If residents suspect somebody is not on the up and up, they should hang up the phone or close the door and then call the police. More specific guidelines are below.
- Never give personal or financial information over the phone unless you are certain that the person requesting it is qualified to ask for it and that providing the information is in your best interest. In general, it is best to provide such information only on calls that you place and not on calls you receive.
- State and federal assistance is provided at no charge to the applicant. Any request for money in order to receive such assistance should be turned down and reported to authorities.
- If you suspect callers of misrepresentation, asking for their number so you can call them back may help. An uncooperative caller, who refuses to give a number or doesn’t answer, may be a fraud. But, in an elaborate scheme, a cooperative caller could also be a fraud, so you should always verify that a caller is genuine before giving information.
- Always ask to see the identification of people visiting your home. After a disaster, residents are likely to be visited by inspectors from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), loss verifiers from the U.S. Small Business Administration and, in some cases, insurance adjusters. All wear or carry photo identification.
- Do not cooperate with anyone who offers to increase the amount of your disaster-damage assessment.
- Contact local law enforcement officials if you have any doubt about the authenticity of identification.
- Ask contractors for references. Do not pay in full in advance. Be sure the contract spells out who will pay for any necessary permits.
- For architects and those in the electrical, mechanical and plumbing trades, ask to see their licenses. Contact the state licensing board to verify the licenses and check for complaints. Information is available at http://www.contractors-license.org/ok/ok.htm.
- Do not do business with contractors who claim to be state or FEMA certified when, in fact, neither the state nor FEMA certifies or endorses contractors.
- Always pay for repair work by check or credit card in order to keep a record and avoid double charges.
- The Department of Emergency Management (OEM) and FEMA encourage anyone who believes he or she may have witnessed fraudulent activity to report it immediately. In addition to the local better business bureau, reports may be made to the Oklahoma Attorney General Consumer Protection Unit at 405-521-2029 or online at www.oag.state.ok.us. Residents may also report fraud to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General’s hotline: 1-800-323-8603.
According to OEM and FEMA officials, special procedures are used whenever they obtain personal or financial information from applicants. Applicants who call the toll-free registration number at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585, or who register at www.fema.gov can be certain that their information is secure. A bank account number will be discussed only if an applicant asks the government agency to make a direct deposit.
OEM and FEMA will not tolerate fraud in any form, whether it is against those affected by the disaster or against the government.