With 35 counties having declared local emergencies following severe flooding earlier this year, the Office of Attorney General Curtis Hill and the Indiana Department of Homeland Security are warning residents to beware of “storm chasers” and other scammers.
“Storm chasers” are companies that target communities after severe weather events and sell their services to repair damaged homes and other property. These individuals typically will conduct door-to-door sales in storm-ravaged communities, urging consumers to immediately sign contracts with their companies. They often promise to assist consumers in negotiations with insurance companies at little to no out-of-pocket cost to customers.
Some companies may seek immediate down payments for future work. Hoosiers should be wary of such operations as these crews may perform sub-quality work or even fail to perform the work at all after receiving payment.
In April of 2017, Attorney General Hill launched the “Double Check Before You Write a Check” campaign to remind Hoosiers to take steps to protect themselves from becoming victims of storm chasers.
“When severe weather rips through Indiana, the damage can be significant,” Attorney General Hill said. “In the worst cases, the devastation can be heartbreaking. Many Hoosiers face the stress of out-of-pocket costs to make repairs to personal property. No Hoosier should face the additional nightmare of becoming a victim of fraud. I strongly urge all Hoosiers to double check a company’s name, reputation, history and authenticity before writing a check to a person claiming to represent such a business.”
IDHS Executive Director Bryan J. Langley also cautioned residents to exercise sound judgment.
“As state and federal resources continue to help restore flood-damaged areas across Indiana, citizens must remain vigilant to those who would take advantage of this opportunity for their own gain,” Langley said. “Impacted residents should safeguard their personal information and inspect any person or business hired to perform repairs. IDHS and FEMA representatives always will have proper identification when working with residents.”
A Major Disaster Declaration was issued on May 5 for Indiana for flooding that occurred Feb. 14 to March 4. This included nine counties that qualified for individual assistance and 27 counties that qualified for public assistance. Since then, more than $2.2 million has been authorized to help citizens and local governments restore and rebuild.
Helpful tips for flooding recovery:
· Avoid agreeing to any repair or restoration work on the spot during initial contact with someone offering services.
· Avoid signing any contracts or other legally binding agreements without first gathering information and researching a business being represented.
· Obtain information about the individual offering his or her services.
· Research any company an individual claims to represent.
· Use licensed local contractors who are backed by reliable references
· Get written estimates from at least three contractors that include the cost of labor and materials.
· Insist that contractors carry general liability insurance and workers’ compensation.
Don’t be fooled by false agency representatives:
Fraudulent phone calls or home visits — Individuals falsely claim to be from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or another government agency. These individuals lack proper photo identification.
· Survivors will be asked to provide their Social Security number and banking information only when registering for FEMA assistance. They should never give this information to contractors.
· Residents should ask to see the inspector’s identification badge. A FEMA or U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) shirt or jacket is not proof of someone’s affiliation with the government. Federal employees and contractors carry official photo identification.
· FEMA inspectors already will have applicants’ nine-digit registration numbers, and inspectors will never require banking or other personal information. If in doubt, survivors should not give out any information.
Fake offers of federal aid — A phone or in-person solicitor promises to speed up the insurance, disaster assistance or building-permit process for a fee. Other scam artists promise a disaster grant and ask for large cash deposits or advance payments in full.
· Federal workers do not solicit or accept money. FEMA and SBA staffers will never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections or for assisting individuals filling out applications.
Dishonest pleas for post-disaster donations — Solicitors may play on the emotions of disaster survivors. These solicitations may come by phone, email, letter or face-to-face. Residents should verify legitimate solicitations by asking for the charity’s exact name, street address, phone number and website address, then phone the charity directly and confirm that the person asking for funds is an employee or volunteer.
If you believe you have been scammed — or suspect someone may be trying to scam you — contact the Office of the Indiana Attorney General. You can file a complaint by visiting indianaconsumer.com or calling 1-800-382-5516 or the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721.
For more information on Indiana’s flood recovery, visit www.fema.gov/disaster/4363.