MISSOURI (KFVS) - Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have a few tips for flood disaster survivors when choosing contractors to help rebuild their communities. They say to "beware and be aware."
Contractors can give the local economy a boost as they construct new homes and businesses. Officials say the majority of contractors are honest and professional but it is good practice to be aware of the occasional scam artist.
Officials warn that some may attempt to cheat by posing as inspectors, government officials or volunteers. They also may offer to clean up debris, but then dump it nearby, leaving the homeowner liable for the cleanup. Others might demand a big deposit up front to rebuild a home, and then vanish with the money.
Federal and state disaster officials recommend that disaster survivors:
- Ask to see ID badges. FEMA representatives will have a laminated photo ID. They say a FEMA shirt or jacket is NOT proof of identity.
- Safeguard personal information. FEMA will only request an applicant’s bank account numbers during the initial registration process and will require verification of identity.
- Beware of people going door-to-door. People knocking on doors or calling and 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, inspections or help to fill out applications.
- FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance 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 SEMA as well as FEMA. They will always be wearing FEMA or SEMA shirts and have laminated photo IDs. Disaster Survivor Assistance teams NEVER ask for or accept payment for their services.
- Check references. Give a call to other customers of the contractor who had similar work done.
- Check contractor’s insurance. Two things, make sure the contractor carries general liability insurance and that the contractor carries workers’ compensation. If the contractor is not insured, the disaster survivor may be liable for accidents that occur on the property, or to the house or building.
- Always get a written estimate. Compare services and prices of several reputable contractors before making a final decision.
- Ask for a written contract. Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces. If substantial costs are involved, have a lawyer review the contract. Insist the contract include start and completion dates.
- Pay by check. Avoid on-the-spot cash payments.
FEMA and SEMA officials encourage homeowners to use licensed and bonded contractors and ask for credentials. Contractors in Missouri are not licensed by the state. If you need to verify a license, contact their city or county for assistance.
The consumer protection hotline for the Missouri State Attorney General's office is 800-392-8222.
To report fraud, waste, abuse or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief operations, call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.