FEMA: Beware post-Sandy home repair scams

Hurricane Sandy survivors should be alert to the possibility of fraudulent  building contractors and other con artists angling to get their hands on some of the state and federal recovery dollars survivors have received in disaster assistance.

Asking just a few questions can save survivors a lot of heartache. The most common post-disaster fraud practices include fraudulent building contractors, phony housing inspectors, bogus pleas for disaster donations, and fake offers of state or federal aid.

Anyone suspecting fraud should call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721. Complaints may also be made to local authorities or the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection at www.ct.gov/dcp or 1-800-842-2649 (in the Hartford area call 860-713-6110).

The following list of consumer safety tips can help homeowners and other survivors spot fraudulent activity:

·       There is never a fee to apply for FEMA disaster assistance or to receive it.

·       There is no fee for FEMA or U.S. Small Business Administration property damage inspections.

·       Government workers will never ask for a fee or payment. They wear official badges. Watch out for middlemen who promise you will receive money, especially if they ask for an up-front payment. FEMA inspectors carry the registration number assigned to the applicant at the time they register.

·       Get three written estimates for repair work. Then check credentials and contact your Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce to check complaints against the contractor or business.

·       Before work begins, obtain a written contract detailing all the work to be performed, costs, a projected completion date, and procedures to negotiate changes and settle disputes.

·       If the contractor provides any guarantees, they should be written into the contract clearly, stating what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee and how long the guarantee is valid.

·       Pay only by credit card which allows you to dispute a payment later if it turns out to be fraudulent. A reasonable down payment may be required to buy materials for some projects, but do not pay for anything without a signed contract.

To register for FEMA assistance, go online to www.DisasterAssistance.gov or m.fema.gov with a smartphone or web-enabled device. To register by telephone, call 800-621-3362 or for TTY users call 800-462-7585.  The lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Multilingual operators are available.

Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-3362. For TTY call 800-462-7585.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is the federal government's primary source of money for the long-term rebuilding of disaster-damaged private property. SBA helps homeowners, renters, businesses of all sizes, and private nonprofit organizations, fund repairs or rebuilding efforts and covers the cost of replacing lost or disaster damaged personal property. These disaster loans cover losses not fully compensated by insurance or other recoveries and do not duplicate benefits of other agencies or organizations.

FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

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