After a disaster strikes, be on alert for related scams and fraud. Scam artists may pose as FEMA or other government officials, aid workers, or employees from charitable organizations or insurance companies in order to get your personal information or take your money.
Safeguard Against Scams and Fraud
- Ask for identification. A shirt or jacket is not proof of someone’s affiliation. Government employees and employees of legitimate disaster relief organizations, utility companies, and insurance companies will carry photo identification.
- Beware of people going door-to-door or cold-calling you. If visitors or callers ask for personal information such as Social Security or bank account numbers, they may be con artists.
- When possible, use contact information posted on government websites or from other official sources.
- Do not give personal information to people who claim to be government employees. If you apply for individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Agency (FEMA) they will ask for your Social Security or bank account number during your initial registration. On follow-up calls, a FEMA representative may ask for the last four digits of your Social Security number, but they will not request the full number.
- Don’t provide personal information on the phone if you didn’t initiate the call
• Remember that FEMA, MEMA, and SBA staff members never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections, or help in filling out applications. If in doubt, do not give out your information, and report anyone claiming to be a government worker to local police.
- FEMA-contracted housing inspectors assess damages, but do not determine cost estimates. They also don’t hire or endorse specific contractors to repair damage.
- FEMA deals with applicants directly. Be wary of scammers who may pose as insurance specialists or expeditors who can convince FEMA to increase home damage assistance. Contact FEMA directly to discuss further assistance — they can send a new inspector to review damaged property at no cost.
- After a disaster, public insurance adjusters often come to the scene to promote their services. Check the license of a public insurance adjuster and learn how to choose a public insurance adjuster with the Massachusetts Division of Insurance (MDI) Consumer Alert – Public Insurance Adjusters.
- Some scammers may attempt to purchase goods with fake FEMA vouchers. FEMA does not offer vouchers.
- Only donate to recognized disaster relief organizations. See Donations and Volunteers for tips on donating and volunteering responsibly.
Consult a Professional
It’s best to consult licensed construction supervisors, oil burner technicians, gas fitters, plumbers, or electricians and registered home improvement contractors before starting any major repairs. Doing so can often save time, money, and headaches over the course of the project. Keep these tips in mind when researching licensed professionals:
- Check the licenses of construction supervisors and oil burner technicians on the Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) License Lookup.
- Check licenses for gas fitters, plumbers, or electricians can be checked through the Division of Professional Licensure’s (DPL) License Search.
- Check registered home improvement contractors on the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation’s (OCABR) Home Improvement Contractor Registration Lookup.
- FEMA does not have approved contractors, so beware of contractors who say they are affiliated with the agency.
- Do not enter into any construction agreements without a written contract. Don’t sign any contracts with blank spaces, or details you don’t understand.
Obtain Proper Building Permits when Rebuilding
- Check with your local building inspector’s office about permit requirements before starting any repairs. Sometimes permit fees are waived after a disaster as part of the rebuilding process. The Massachusetts Board of Building Regulations and Standards encourages contractors to apply for permits on behalf of building owners.
- Schedule the necessary inspections. As part of the permit process, inspections are required by local municipal inspectors to ensure that the work is performed in accordance with relevant codes and standards
- Document all work. Keep records of building permits, inspections, etc. for insurance and other record-keeping.
For additional information, see Home Improvement guidance from the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR).
Report Scams and Fraud
If you notice suspicious activity in your neighborhood, or suspect someone is trying to commit fraud, report it immediately to your local police department.
- To check the history of a business or to file a complaint about a scam, contact the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO) Consumer Hotline, 1-617-727-8400. You may also file consumer complaints through their Consumer Complaint form. The AGO’s Elder Hotline (1-888-243-5337) can assist citizens over the age of 60.
- To file a complaint or ask questions, call Complaints or questions may the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation Consumer Hotline at 1-888-283-3757.
- To report contractors, inspectors, insurance representatives, or survivors who may have defrauded the government after a disaster, call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline toll-free at 1-866-720-5721.