Protect Your Home from Flooding: Part 2
How to Protect Yourself from Lying, Cheating Scammers After a Disaster
When a flood event happens, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is one of the first organizations on the ground to help in relief and recovery efforts.
Once the danger from the flooding event has subsided, those affected by the destruction must register with FEMA in order to qualify for disaster assistance. Part of the process is reporting uninsured or underinsured damage to their homes, vehicles, or other personal property.
Once the initial registration has begun, housing inspectors contracted by FEMA will contact the applicant and schedule an appointment to visit the home and neighborhood to check for damage.
“The free FEMA housing inspections are an essential step in the recovery process for survivors who sustained damage to their homes,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Thomas J. McCool. “It’s vital that survivors register with FEMA, ensure we have their current contact information and then coordinate with the housing inspector to schedule the inspection.”
However, in times of disaster, unscrupulous criminals often try to take advantage of survivors. Nathaniel Meyersohn of CNNMoney calls this “storm-chaser” fraud. Whether the damage is caused by a flood, tornado, hurricane, fire, or other disaster, homeowners should take precautions against these crooks.
“We’ve seen it after every significant disaster, and we don’t expect anything different once the Harvey-induced floods recede,” said Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the nonprofit National Insurance Crime Bureau.
The Texas attorney general’s office told CNNMoney that it had already received hundreds of Harvey-related fraud complaints. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, more than 1,400 people were prosecuted for hurricane-related fraud, Meyersohn reported.
In a press release, FEMA said the agency’s contracted inspectors will display official photo identification when they arrive at home. If they don’t, ask to see it. If the inspector cannot produce an official ID, don’t let the potential fraudster in and report the incident to FEMA. The same goes for Small Business Administration (SBA) loss verifiers and insurance adjusters—all are required to carry identification.
FEMA also notes that residents should not be concerned if an inspector is seen in their neighborhood but does not visit every home. The inspectors make appointments and follow a schedule, so they can only visit houses on that day’s list.
Regardless of the situation, scammers will often try to get payment upfront, before work is started. They may be from out of town or in unmarked vehicles. They may pressure you to let them look at damaged areas or to get started on work immediately.
To avoid getting swindled, use local companies that you’ve used in the past or that trusted neighbors and friends recommend. Your local Better Business Bureau is a good resource as well.
Though it can be hard to wait for repair work, it’s best to get more than one bid on any repair job so you know you’re getting a good price. Another tip for any kind of home repair project is never paid upfront. We have all heard stories of people who paid for a job upfront and never saw the repair person again.
Even if you haven’t been near flooding, another way you can get conned after a disaster like that in Houston is through car fraud. After Hurricane Katrina, the National Insurance Crime Bureau discovered that people were repairing flood-damaged vehicles and selling them as used cars.
The Atlanta Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns that many flood-damaged cars might show up in the used car market as scammers seek to make a profit off unsuspecting car shoppers. Though there is no “foolproof” way to detect vehicle flood damage, the BBB recommends a few steps to detect water damage in an automobile.
Ask questions. Always ask to see the title of a used car. Check the date and place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged state and if the title is stamped “salvage.” If the car’s history seems suspicious, ask the dealer or individual directly if the car has been damaged by floodwater.
Do your own inspection. Look closely at the interior, trunk, and engine compartment for rust, musty odors, and other signs of significant water damage. Look for discolored, faded, or stained upholstery and carpeting. Carpeting that has been replaced may fit too loosely or may not match the interior color. Check all gauges on the dashboard to make sure they are accurate. Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, cigarette lighter, radio, heater, and air conditioner several times to make sure they work.
Get a professional inspection. Ask a reputable mechanic to look for signs of water damage in the used vehicle you thinking of purchasing. Mechanics may detect things like water levels in the engine well and rusting wires. They can also look inside your ventilation system and see if there’s any debris – tell-tale signs of flooded vehicles. A pre-purchase inspection may cost a little money, but it may save you money in the long run if major problems are discovered.
The bottom line is to exercise caution when buying a used car, the BBB warns. And, they say, the old adage is true: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
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