Part of being prepared for disaster is knowing how to protect yourself from criminals who prey on people in vulnerable situations.
Illegal activity such as price-gouging may begin before a disaster even strikes, and scams continue for years in forms including rental fraud, contractor fraud and fake charities. Follow the tips below to protect yourself and your family.
* Building Repairs: Before starting work, get a contract in writing, and request three days to review it. Be aware that it is illegal to require full or partial payment before disaster-remediation work in Texas. You should also verify your prospective contractor's insurance, ask for references from past customers and use the Better Business Bureau and Internet search engines to research their companies. It is also best to get multiple estimates, avoid out-of-town businesses and never trust someone claiming to be a "FEMA-certified" contractor -- there is no such thing. For more information on averting contractor fraud, visit https://go.usa.gov/xEVgp.
* Home Rentals: Before you rent a home or apartment, search the Internet for the information in the listing. If you find the same information with a different name, it may be a scam. Also beware of ads that are vague or lack detail. Never wire money, and never pay rent or a security deposit before you've visited the home, met the landlord and signed a lease. To learn more about averting rental scams, see https://go.usa.gov/xEEKM.
* FEMA Imposters: Never let someone into your home without a FEMA-issued photo ID. If you get a call about FEMA assistance, don't provide any personal information except your FEMA-issued registration number. FEMA workers at your home will never ask for money.
* Fake Charities: Don't respond to unsolicited emails and don't give to telemarketers. Phony nonprofits may try to sound real by using names similar to actual charities. A list of charities approved by the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance can be found at www.give.org.
* Price Gouging: It is illegal to excessively raise prices on essential goos and services because of severe weather. If you witness price gouging, please notify the Texas Office of the Attorney General at 800-621-0508, [email protected] or www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.
* Promises, Promises: Never pay up front for promise of future benefits like debt relief, credit, loans, prizes and job offers. For more on this and several other types of fraud, go to https://go.usa.gov/xVBgt.
All types of potential fraud should be reported to your local law enforcement agency. Please also inform FEMA by calling 800-621-3362 or TTY 800-462-7585, and contact the Texas Office of the Attorney General by calling 800-621-0508, emailing [email protected] or visiting www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.
For additional information on Hurricane Harvey and Texas recovery, visit the Hurricane Harvey disaster web page at www.fema.gov/disaster/4332, Facebook at www.facebook.com/FEMAHarvey, the FEMA Region 6 Twitter account at www.twitter.com/FEMARegion6 or the Texas Division of Emergency Management website at https://tdem.texas.gov/.