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How to get help from FEMA and avoid scams

Matthew may have left North Carolina, but the flooding is just beginning. On top of that, scammers may try to take advantage of the victims.

Attorney General Roy Cooper has issued a post-storm scam warning.

Cooper said scammers can pose as FEMA officials or home repair companies. They ask for payment up front to fix houses and never do the work.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has established the website www.DisasterAssistance.gov to allow the public to pre-apply for Individual Assistance.

Cooper recommends not paying for work up front, asking for an official ID if someone claims to be from the government, and donating to legitimate charities only.

The attorney general stressed that residents should contact their insurance company if the storm damages their home and take pictures of the damage.

If you’ve been a victim of a scam, contact the North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper’s consumer hotline at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or fill out a complaint at www.ncdoj.gov.

Here are more tips from the AG’s office on how to avoid being scammed:

Avoid scammers impersonating FEMA officials, power company workers or insurance adjustors:

  • Impersonation scams can happen in many ways, including by telephone, emails, text and in person.
  • Don’t pay for disaster assistance applications. FEMA does not charge for disaster inspections or help filling out applications for disaster assistance.
  • Ask for an official ID. If someone comes to your door claiming to be from the government, the power company, or your insurance company, ask to see their official photo ID. Do not be fooled by hats, clothing or vehicles with logos.
  • Do not share personal information with anyone you don’t know who contacts you. Legitimate workers will not ask for your Social Security Number or bank account number. If you do apply for FEMA assistance, you will need to provide some personal information, but until then be wary of requests for it.
  • When in doubt, get in touch with FEMA, your power company, or your insurance company at a phone number or website you know to be valid.
  • For FEMA, contact local emergency management or other government officials or contact FEMA directly 1-800-621-FEMA
  • For your power company or insurance company, use the phone number or website listed on a recent account statement or your insurance, if available, or search for the company’s real website.

Avoid home and auto repair scams that follow storms:

  • If the storm damages your property, contact your insurance company first. Some insurance companies require an adjuster’s approval before work can be done. Take pictures and videos of the damage, if possible. Cover holes in your roof or walls with a tarp to prevent additional damage if you can do so safely.
  • Don’t pay for work up front. Inspect the work and make sure you’re satisfied before you pay. A small down payment may be required, but don’t pay anything without a written contract. Avoid paying with cash; use a check or a credit card instead.
  • Beware of any contractor who tries to rush you or comes to your home to solicit work. If an offer is only good now or never, find someone else to do the work. Seek recommendations from friends, neighbors, co-workers and others who have had work done on their homes.
  • Beware those claiming to be FEMA endorsed: FEMA does not certify or approve contractors.
  • Get three written estimates, if possible, and compare bids. Check credentials and contact the Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau to learn about any complaints against the contractor. Ask to get the contractor’s certificate of insurance directly from their insurance company, not from the contractor. Before work begins, get a written contract detailing all work to be performed, costs and a projected completion date.
  • For car repairs, shop around and compare written estimates. On major jobs, get a second opinion.

Give wisely if you decide to donate, and avoid scammers who use Hurricane Matthew to make their phony pleas for donations sound legitimate:

Decide who you want to give to. Instead of responding to solicitations to make a donation, especially from telemarketers who may keep as much as 90 percent of the money they collect, decide which charities you want to support and contact them directly.

Research charities before you give. Visit give.org to see if national charities meet the standards set by the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, and charitywatch.org for ratings of charities by the American Institute of Philanthropy. Other good sources of information are guidestar.org and charitynavigator.org.
Avoid charity scams. If a caller refuses to answer your questions about the charity, offers to come to pick up a donation in person or calls you and asks for a credit card, bank account or Social Security number, it may be a scam. To report telemarketing fraud, call the Attorney General’s Office. To check up on a charity, call the Secretary of State’s office tollfree at (888) 8304989

Watch out for price gouging:

North Carolina’s law against price gouging remains in effect for all 100 counties for all goods and services to prohibit charging unreasonable prices following Hurricane Matthew.

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