Whenever charitable groups and disaster assistance agencies like FEMA begin aiding disaster survivors, criminals follow in their wake. The most common post-disaster fraud practices include phony housing inspectors, fraudulent building contractors, bogus pleas for disaster donations and fake offers of expedited state or federal aid in exchange for “a small fee.” What survivors should remember is that neither federal nor state workers ask for or accept money, and always carry identification badges. There is no fee required to apply for or get disaster assistance from FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration, or the state.
FEMA, like other federal agencies, can reclaim federal funds that were given out by error or as the result of fraud, for example, but it never makes those demands by phone. The process, known as “recoupment,” begins with an official letter from FEMA which lays out why the agency is asking for the refund and how much is involved. It also provides recipients with information on how to appeal.
Scam attempts can be made over the phone, by mail or email, text or in person. Unfortunately, there seems to be no limit to the inventiveness of those wanting to commit fraud. Storm survivors are asked to remain alert, ask questions and require photo identification when someone claims to represent a government agency.
If you question the validity of a contact or suspect fraud, call the toll-free FEMA Tip Line at 866-223-0814, the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721, or your local law enforcement agencies. You can also report at StopFEMAFraud@fema.dhs.gov.
If you have knowledge of fraud, waste, abuse or mismanagement involving programs or operations of the Department of Homeland Security, which includes FEMA, you can access the department’s investigative referral submission form at https://hotline.oig.dhs.gov/#step-1.