The U.S . Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is advising victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to check for identification when approached by post-disaster officials.
“It is unfortunate when disaster victims become targets for fraud, identity theft or other crimes,” said Scott Wells, deputy federal coordinating officer. “For this reason, FEMA strongly suggests all Hurricane Katrina and Rita victims verify the identity of any official asking for personal and financial information.”
Most officials should have some form of picture ID. All FEMA representatives will wear an official picture ID in plain sight on their person. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) follows the same practice. Insurance adjusters should be able to provide identification upon request. Inspectors and adjusters will call to arrange an appointment before visiting a disaster victim or their property. Hurricane victims may be visited by a local building inspector who will ensure rebuilding measures will comply with code.
It is illegal for an inspector or other official to ask for a bribe to inflate the estimated damages to a home or property. Offering a bribe for an inflated report of damage is also against the law.
It may be necessary to call disaster victims to gather information or clarify important details. An applicant for disaster relief should verify ID with any caller claiming to be with FEMA, the SBA or another agency by asking for his or her application number or other previously given information. If an applicant feels uncomfortable giving answers regarding personal or financial information, he or she is advised to hang up and call back to a known disaster-assistance phone number.
For assistance or more information, disaster victims may contact FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY-1-800-462-7585 for people who are speech- or hearing-impaired. Lines are open 24-hours a day, seven days a week until further notice.
Hurricane victims may also receive assistance online at www.fema.gov or they can get assistance in registering at any Disaster Recovery Center. To contact the Small Business Administration, call SBA customer service at 1-800-659-2955 or visit www.sba.gov/disaster.
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