Monday, June 16, 2008

Iowa Residents Warned of Possible Scams

Editor's note: To date, 5 people have died in Iowa from flooding and many homes have been destroyed or significantly damaged.

Even before the flood waters subside, one of the first things to float ashore are scam artists pretending to offer help, warns Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division (HSEMD) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

"Be alert for door-to-door solicitors who hand out flyers and promise to speed up insurance or building permits," says FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Bill Vogel. "Watch out for folks who come to you and ask for your FEMA registration number, your social security number, cash deposits or advance payments in full. You can also avoid charity scams by working only with groups you know."

Although most architects, engineers, electrical and general contractors are honest, disasters tend to attract scam artists. Some of these people claim to be FEMA-certified, when in fact, FEMA neither certifies nor endorses any contractor. FEMA workers and inspectors always wear their photo ID where it can be seen at all times and never handle money or charge fees. FEMA employees and damage inspectors will also be able to confirm your case number, given to you when you register for assistance; a scam artist will not know your case number.

"FEMA is here to help our residents get relief, but we are asking residents to be mindful of those who seek to deceive them," State Coordinating Officer Pat Hall said. "By following the tips we are providing, you can protect yourself against dishonest scam artists."

"Home repair con artists sometimes move in after a disaster because the conditions may give them an edge," Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said. "There may be hundreds of people who are eager to get clean-up or repairs done, there may be a shortage of local contractors to do all the work, there may be money around because of disaster or insurance payments, and people may be in a rush to get back to normal."

Miller cautioned Iowans to be especially careful about contractors coming to their door and asking for advance payment for cleanup or repairs. "That's a recipe for rip-off. They may take your money and run and do little or no work," he said.

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