As government agencies and charitable groups continue to provide disaster assistance, scam artists, identity thieves and other criminals may attempt to prey on vulnerable survivors. Since the recovery effort began, authorities have received reports of unscrupulous individuals trying to do just that.
The most common post-disaster fraud practices include phony housing inspectors, fraudulent building contractors, bogus pleas for disaster donations and fake offers of state or federal aid. Authorities in Arkansas have reported one resident received a phone call claiming to be from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The caller attempted to get the person’s bank account information and debit card number.
“No government disaster assistance agency will call you and ask for your financial account information,” said State Coordinating Officer David Maxwell of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM). “Unless you place the call yourself, don’t give out that information over the phone. It can lead to identity theft.”
Survivors should also keep in mind that federal and state workers never ask for or accept money, and always carry identification badges. There is no fee required to apply for or to get disaster assistance from FEMA, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) or the state.
“Scam attempts can be made over the phone, by mail or email, or in person,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Timothy J. Scranton of FEMA. “Unfortunately, there seems to be no limit to the inventiveness of these con artists. We urge Arkansans to remain alert, ask questions and require identification when someone claims to represent a government agency.”
Those who suspect fraud should call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline toll free at 1-866-720-5721. Complaints may also be made to local law enforcement agencies and through the Arkansas Attorney General Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-482-8982.
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