When flood waters subside, one of the first things to surface is the scam artist.
Officials in Texas and Louisiana have issued warnings about telephone finagling and in-your-face scams. Their advice: Guard your personal information. If you suspect somebody is not on the up and up, hang up the phone or close the door. Then call the police.
Officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) say that special procedures are used whenever personal information must be obtained from applicants. First, if an applicant calls the FEMA toll-free registration number at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585, or registers at www.fema.gov, they can be assured that their information is secure.
Second, a bank account number will only be discussed if an applicant asks a government agency to make a direct deposit into their account. And most importantly, there are two identification numbers assigned to every application. Each person who calls FEMA to register for help gets a FEMA number of their own and they are told the personal ID number of their case worker. A legitimate government agent who calls an applicant will always be able to tell the applicant both of these numbers.
Here are some cautions to heed:
* FEMA and other government agencies such as the U.S. Small Business Administration will never ask for money for their services;
* Before you hire a contractor for any work, check with your neighbors, the local Better Business Bureau, homebuilders’ association or trade council to see if the contracting firm has any complaints against it;
* Do not cooperate with anyone who offers to increase the amount of your disaster-damage assessment;
* Do not give cash to anyone doing work for you; pay by check or credit card in order to keep a record, avoid double charges and have additional leverage in case of a dispute.
* If a request doesn’t seem right, heed the fatherly words of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus 20 years ago at the conclusion of each roll call on Hill Street Blues, “And, hey – let’s be careful out there.”
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