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FEMA warns Virginia residents of Hurricane Matthew scams

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – FEMA is warning Virginia residents of scams that often follow a natural disaster.

First, FEMA recommends residents use licensed local contractors with reliable references. To confirm a contractor’s license, go to virginia.gov/LicenseLookup/. Don’t pay for more than half the costs of repairs upfront.

Officials are also asking citizens to beware of bogus pleas for post-disaster donations. Unfortunately, some solicitors might attempt to play on the emotions of disaster survivors. Solicitors could contact you by phone, email, letter or even visit your home. Make sure to ask for the charity’s name, street address, phone number and web address. Call the charity directly and confirm that the person asking for money is an employee or volunteer. After you donate, request a receipt with the charity’s name, street address, phone number.

The Virginia Relief Fund site has plenty of legitimate charities listed VAemergency.gov/get-involved/virginia-disaster-relief-fund/.

Scammers may also claim to be representatives from FEMA or the Commonwealth of Virginia. The scammers may ask for your Social Security number, banking information or other personal information. Some scam artists promise disaster grants and ask for cash deposits or advance payments in full.

FEMA officials want to remind citizens that Federal and Commonwealth workers will never ask for or accept money. FEMA and U.S. Small Business Administration staff never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections or for help in filling out applications.

Here are some tips from FEMA to help see if a representative is legitimate:

  • Ask to see ID badges. All FEMA representatives will have a laminated photo ID. A FEMA shirt or jacket is not proof of identity. If you are unsure or uncomfortable with anyone you encounter, please contact local law enforcement.
  • When a FEMA representative contacts you during the initial registration process, they will request only your bank account number and last four digits of your social security number for verification. FEMA inspectors will also require verification of identity.
  • FEMA and SBA staff never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections, or for help to fill out applications. FEMA inspectors verify damages, but do not involve themselves in any aspect of the repair nor recommend any contractor.
  • FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance teams may be in your community providing information and assisting people in registering with FEMA or updating their files.

If you’re unsure that someone who claims to be a FEMA representative is legitimate, call the toll free FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.

Complaints also may be made by contacting local law enforcement agencies. or call the Virginia Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 800-552-9963 or call (804) 786-2042. Business hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.