HATTIESBURG, Miss. – Mississippians whose homes were damaged in the January tornadoes and severe storms should beware of fake inspectors, government officials, contractors or even fake volunteers. These people may try to get personal information or collect payment from you for disaster assistance or repairs.
Federal Emergency Management Agency employees do not solicit or accept money from disaster survivors. Many legitimate disaster assistance employees may visit your property such as insurance agents, damage inspectors and Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, FEMA and U.S. Small Business Administration staff.
Here are some tips to remember to safeguard against fraud:
- Ask to see ID badges. All FEMA representatives will have a laminated photo ID. A FEMA shirt or jacket is not proof of identity. If you are unsure or uncomfortable with anyone you encounter, please contact local law enforcement.
- Safeguard personal information. 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 numbers during the initial registration process. However FEMA inspectors will require verification of identity.
- 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.
- Federal workers do not solicit or accept money. FEMA and SBA staff never charge applicants for disaster assistance, damage inspections or help to fill out applications. FEMA inspectors verify damage, but do not involve themselves in any aspect of the repair nor recommend any contractor.
- FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance teams may be in your community providing information and assisting people in registering with FEMA or updating their files. The teams coordinate their activities with local emergency managers and make local law enforcement agencies aware of their presence. The teams always consist of at least two people, and may include employees of MEMA as well as FEMA. They will always be wearing FEMA or MEMA shirts and laminated photo IDs. Disaster Survivor Assistance teams never ask for or accept payment for their services.
FEMA does not certify contractors. Always use licensed and bonded contractors and ask for credentials. Use Mississippi contractors if you can. You can verify a Mississippi contractor’s license online at msboc.us. Never pay for anything in advance of work being done. If you have a complaint about anyone soliciting your business, contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office toll-free number at 800-281-4418 or 601-359-3680.
If you have knowledge of fraud, waste, abuse or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief operations, call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.
The first step toward obtaining recovery assistance is to register with FEMA.
Survivors in Forrest, Lamar, Lauderdale and Perry counties can register for FEMA Individual Assistance online at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362 or (TTY) 800-462-7585. Helpline hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time, seven days a week until further notice.