It has been a wild couple of months, with first Hurricane Harvey then Irma and finally Maria leaving paths of devastation in their wake. Hundreds of IAQA members have been impacted both professionally and personally by the storms. As professionals serving clients suffering wide-ranging damages, we want to responsibly assist them and help them avoid the scammers who unfortunately seek to profit by the misfortune of others. The following is information to keep in mind that you can pass along to your clients as needed.
As the post hurricane damage is assessed in Puerto Rico, there are reports of “FEMA inspectors” asking for personal information or charging for services such as damage inspections or contractor repairs. This is a scam.
Scam artists may pose as government officials, aid workers, charitable organizations, or insurance company employees. Follow these steps:
- Do not respond to texts, phone calls or personal requests seeking your personal information. The only time you should provide personal information is during the initial application process for FEMA help or when you initiate contact with FEMA to follow up on an application. FEMA inspectors only require verification of identity.
- Ask for identification and don’t be afraid to hang up on cold callers.
- Contact government agencies using information posted on their websites or in other official sources.
- Don’t sign anything you don’t understand or contracts with blank spaces.
- If you suspect fraud, contact the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or report it to the Federal Trade Commission Contact government agencies using information posted on their websites or in other official sources.
Texas officials say Harvey-related online scams continue to proliferate. If Texans in affected counties believe they have been scammed or encountered price gouging during or after Hurricane Harvey, they should call the Texas Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline, 800-621-0508, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florida officials are also warning homeowners to beware of scammers who show up posing as FEMA damage inspectors or repair contractors. Unlicensed contractors who take advantage of natural disasters also face strict penalties. During a declared state of emergency, the penalty for unlicensed construction activity becomes a third-degree felony.
Report price gouging or contractor fraud to the Attorney General’s Office online at www.myfloridalegal.com or by calling toll-free at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM. Additionally, you may report unlicensed contractors to the Department of Business & Professional Regulation online at www.myfloridalicense.com or by calling 1-866-532-1440.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Many in the Virgin Islands are in need and displaced. As a result of the major disaster declaration, FEMA will provide supplemental funding to the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority (VIWMA) for costs to remove eligible household debris that is moved to public rights of way, but residents should follow VIWMA’s guidance.
“Removing a substantial amount of household debris helps eliminate a safety and health hazard for residents,” said FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer William Vogel. “We are committed to doing what we can to help survivors recover and get back to normal as soon as possible.”
Scammers that have honed their Internet skills to fleece unsuspecting consumers. Natural disasters offer a perfect entree into defrauding storm victims, along with the good Samaritans who want to help.
Cyber thieves have snapped up scores of Internet domain names containing combinations of words such as “Irma,” “help,” “victims” and “relief.” The Center for Internet Security has tracked nearly 750 freshly registered domain names and issued a warning that consumers should be wary of bogus websites as well as emails that may contain phishing messages or malware. Also beware of fake online GoFundMe pages.
To donate or volunteer, contact the voluntary or charitable organization of your choice through the National Voluntary Agencies Active in Disasters (NVOAD) at www.nvoad.org.
Federal Disaster Recovery Assistance
FEMA disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you know of someone who has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at (800) 621-3362.
Consumers can also file a complaint with the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline at 866-720-5721.
In closing, on behalf of the IAQA, our thoughts and prayers go out to all impacted by the recent natural disasters, as well as the victims of the Las Vegas mass shooting and their loved ones.