Beware of these disaster aid scams, FEMA warns

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The logo of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is seen at its headquarters August 27, 2011 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The Federal Emergency Management Agency Monday warned victims of California’s wildfires and other natural disasters to beware of swindlers who pose as official aid workers or relatives trying to help them get government assistance.

Stressing that it does not endorse commercial businesses, products or services, FEMA advised residents in San Diego, Los Angeles, Fresno, Madera, Mendocino, Napa, San Bernardino, Shasta, Siskiyou and Sonoma counties to be on the lookout for common tactics used by these criminals, such as phone calls from people claiming to work for the federal agency.

The scammers might, for example, seek to obtain a victim’s Social Security number and income or banking information, which could allow them to make a false claim for assistance or commit identity theft.

FEMA encourages victims of natural disasters to do the following:

  • Be cautious if somebody tries to get your nine-digit registration number, as FEMA inspectors will never ask for this information,  because they already have it in their records;
  • Don’t give anyone personal banking data, which FEMA inspectors will never ask for;
  • Don’t trust someone who asks for money, something that federal and local disaster workers do not do;
  • Don’t believe anyone who promises a disaster grant and asks for large cash deposits or advance payments in full;
  • Use licensed or verified local contractors backed by reliable references;
  • Don’t pay more than half the costs of repairs in advance; and
  • Demand that contractors detail the job to be done with guarantees in writing.

Licensed certified contractors can be found by checking with the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

Anyone suspecting they have been the target of such a scam are encouraged to call the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720- 5721 or file an online complaint with the California Attorney General’s Public Inquiry Unit at oag.ca.gov/report.

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