Oklahoma residents whose properties were damaged in the recent storms and flooding are warned to be alert for, and urged to report, any potential fraud during recovery and rebuilding efforts, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The aftermath of a disaster can attract opportunists and confidence artists. Homeowners, renters and businesses can follow some simple steps to avoid being swindled.
Be suspicious if a contractor:
- Demands cash or full payment up front for repair work;
- Has no physical address or identification;
- Urges you to borrow to pay for repairs, then steers you to a specific lender or tries to act as an intermediary between you and a lender;
- Asks you to sign something you have not had time to review; or
- Wants your personal financial information to start the repair or lending process.
To avoid fraud:
- Question strangers offering to do repair work and demand to see identification;
- Do your own research before borrowing money for repairs. Compare quotes, repayment schedules and rates. If they differ significantly, ask why;
- Never give any personal financial information to an unfamiliar person; and
- Never sign any document without first reading it fully. Ask for an explanation of any terms or conditions you do not understand.
Disasters also attract people who claim to represent charities but do not. The Federal Trade Commission warns people to be careful and follow some simple rules:
- Donate to charities you know and trust. Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight.
- If you’re solicited for a donation, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, whom they work for, and the percentage of your donation that will go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don’t get a clear answer — or if you don’t like the answer you get — consider donating to a different organization.
- Do not give out personal or financial information – including your credit card or bank account number – unless you know the charity is reputable.
- Never send cash: you can’t be sure the organization will receive your donation.
- Check out a charity before you donate. Contact the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org.
If you believe you are the victim of a contracting scam, price-gouging or bogus charity solicitations, contact local law enforcement and report it to the Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General. Find a complaint form online at oag.ok.gov. The Federal Trade Commission takes complaints at www.ftc.gov/complaint.
Many legitimate persons — insurance agents, FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance personnel, local inspectors and actual contractors — may have to visit your storm-damaged property. Survivors could, however, encounter people posing as inspectors, government officials or contractors in a bid to obtain personal information or collect payment for repair work. Your best strategy to protect yourself against fraud is to ask to see identification in all cases and to safeguard your personal financial information. Please keep in mind that local, state and federal employees do not solicit or accept money for their services to the citizens.
All FEMA employees and contractors will have a laminated photo ID. A FEMA shirt or jacket alone is not proof of identity. FEMA generally will request an applicant's Social Security or bank account numbers only during the initial registration process. However, FEMA inspectors might require verification of identity. FEMA and U.S. Small Business Administration staff never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections or help filling out applications. FEMA inspectors verify damages but do not recommend or hire specific contractors to fix homes.