New scams target hurricane victims

Published 3:55 am Monday, February 14, 2005

By By Lee Weyhrich
Officials from FEMA warn that many people in areas affected by Hurricane Ivan are becoming the victim of scams.
According to information from the Florida State Emergency Response Team (SERT) and the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency, the most common scams involve people claiming to be employed by FEMA or other government agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers.
"The reality is that there are people out there that try to take advantage," Tom Mullins, a public information officer for FEMA, said.
One such scam involves scam artists claiming to be with the Corps. The scam artists tell victims that they need to be paid up front in order to do roofing work. They also claim that the money will be reimbursed.
FEMA officials warn that the only roofing project they had was Operation Blue Roof, which ended in November.
"The best way to verify authorized FEMA or Corps personnel is by checking their laminated photo identification card, which they are required to wear at all times," Craig Fugate, Florida state coordinating officer for SERT, said. "The Corps shirt and signs on vehicles are not sufficient proof."
Mullins said the best way to avoid being victimized is to double check anything that sounds odd and to only use licensed and bonded contractor.
"People should try to use local licensed and bonded contractors if possible, get two or three estimates to make sure they get the best deal on repairs and they should not pay cash or pay up front," Mullins said.
Mullins also warned against writing checks to strangers. He said following these instructions and making sure repairs are done properly and to code can solve a lot of problems.
Another scam Mullins warns about is people claiming to be inspecting repairs that have already been made.
"Someone might be posing as Corps representatives or FEMA representatives and will ask for money for services or inspections," Mullins said.
According to Mullins official inspections are done at no cost to the public.
Tina Hollinger, an Atmore resident reported a slightly different type of scam.
"These people with foreign accents kept calling me telling me I had grant money coming if I gave them my bank account information," Hollinger said. "It came up as a New York number on caller ID."
According to Hollinger she told them she was not interested.
"He kept telling me it was a grant guaranteed to all the people affected by the storm, he said the money came from dome foundation, but he wouldn't tell me what is was," she said.
When Hollinger pressed the man for information or a phone number where she could get confirmation on the validity of the man's statements he told her he needed information from her first.
"He said it was no less than $5,000 guaranteed," Hollinger said. "He told me he'd give me a phone number after I gave him my bank number, I just started calling out numbers until I had enough for a bank number."
She said that after she finished calling out the numbers the man gave her contact information. The name and number she was given was James Robinson at 646-536-3068, the same number that showed up on her caller ID.
When Robinson requested further information Hollinger told him she needed to get information from another source first.
"I said let me call The Atmore Advance or the police station to see if they heard anything about a grant for low income households affected by the storm," Hollinger said.
According to her the line suddenly became clear.
According to Mullins federal representatives will only ask for personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers if they have been contacted. They will not contact individuals and ask for such information.
"People should never give bank account information over the phone, only if they call the 1-800 number for info would they be asked for personal information," Mullins said.
When contacted by FEMA people should ask for proper ID and if they feel that something is suspicious they should call 1-800-323-8603 or the local district attorney's office to report a possible scam.
Attempts to reach James Robinson have not been successful.

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