7 Ways to Spot FEMA Scams and Protect Your Relief Money

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    FEMA Scammers May Be Out To Hoodwink You

    Rebecca Shaw lost her home to Fromberg’s worst flood in 100 years — but her troubles didn’t end there.[*] Shaw spent almost 60 hours trying to get assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), only to be turned down. 

    Someone had fraudulently created an account in her husband’s name, using a stolen Social Security number (SSN) and date of birth.

    FEMA scams have become a growing problem as opportunist thieves make unlawful claims following disasters like floods, wildfires, or pandemics. 

    The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reports that insurers lost between $4.6 billion and $9.2 billion in 2021 alone due to this type of disaster-related fraud.[*]

    How can you identify FEMA scams? What do these fraudulent disaster recovery schemes have in common?

    Here Are 7 Ways To Spot FEMA Scams:

    1. No proper FEMA identification
    2. Unsolicited phone calls or emails
    3. FEMA, SBA, or Blue Roof representatives asking for payments
    4. Imposters posing as government contractors
    5. Misusing emergency rental listings
    6. Bogus charitable organizations
    7. Solicitations for fund transfers

    1. No proper FEMA identification

    In the wake of a natural disaster, con artists sometimes pose as FEMA housing inspectors and visit people under the pretense of inspecting property damage. 

    A tornado-ravaged Kentucky, for example, saw scammers impersonating FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance teams in December of last year.[*]

    If phony inspectors gain your trust, they could obtain personally identifiable information (PII), which they can use to claim fraudulent benefits or conduct other types of identity theft.

    How to avoid this scam:

    • Check the inspector’s identification badge. All FEMA personnel carry official identification that includes their name and a laminated photo. Ask to see their badges before allowing them onto your property.
    • Don’t accept a FEMA jacket as proof. If someone shows up with a FEMA logo on their clothing, this is not sufficient proof of identification. Refuse entry if they can’t show you official identification. 
    • Never share your registration number. Legitimate housing inspectors will already have your nine-digit FEMA registration number. If anyone asks for yours, consider this a red flag for fraud.
    Take action: If you think someone is misusing your personal information, try Aura’s identity theft protection free for 14 days to secure your identity.

    2. Unsolicited phone calls or emails

    When you apply for federal aid, FEMA representatives will ask for your SSN and bank account details. Bad actors, however, prey on vulnerable victims by making contact via email or phone calls to “reconfirm” this information.

    These scams were so pervasive after Hurricane Ida that the FBI warned Louisiana residents about scam phone calls, text messages, and emails that falsely promised to expedite aid.[*]

    How to avoid this scam:

    • Ignore any unsolicited calls or emails from supposed federal representatives. FEMA will not contact you unless you either apply for assistance or contact FEMA first. 
    • Be on your guard if anyone asks you to confirm your nine-digit registration number. FEMA inspectors already have this number in their records — so this is information that they will never ask for. Visit disasterassistance.gov and enter your registration number to check on your application status.
    • Protect your SSN. Scammers may be motivated to steal your SSN for employment or government benefits. To prevent Social Security identity theft, never share this information with local disaster workers who call or email you.

    3. FEMA, SBA, or Blue Roof representatives asking for payments

    After Hurricanes Laura and Delta devastated southwest Louisiana, a subcontractor threatened to put liens on homes if homeowners didn’t pay to install tarps on their roofs.[*

    On the heels of this scam, FEMA responded with a news release informing homeowners that the Blue Roof program was free of charge. 

    No bonafide FEMA or U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) personnel will ever collect payments for inspections, disaster assistance, or help with applications.

    Common scam payment methods
    Scammers demand payments via prepaid cars and wire transfers due to the reduced consumer/credit protections they offer. Source: BBB Online Purchase Scams Report 2021

    How to avoid this scam:

    • Remember: disaster assistance is free. Official disaster aid workers will never ask for payment. Scammers are notorious for engaging in fraudulent practices such as seeking payment through gift cards or money transfer apps.
    • Verify the organization’s website. FEMA.gov is an official government site that does not accept or request credit card information for payments or donations.
    • Never respond to unsolicited requests for your information. Blue Roof representatives will never ask you to participate in their program or ask for PII, such as your SSN or bank account numbers. You must complete a Right of Entry (ROE) form if you want to apply.
    Screenshot of an ROE form
    An ROE form gives permission to the city/county and state to access your property for cleanup activities after a disaster. Source: caionline.org

    4. Imposters posing as government contractors

    The hamlet of Pearl River is home to about 2,600 people, many of whom needed home repairs after Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav, and Isaac. 

    As part of his years-long con after the hurricanes, a local contractor bilked the town out of nearly $600,000. The contractor claimed that there would be federal reimbursements for his disaster-relief services.[*]

    FEMA does not certify or assign building contractors, so you must do your due diligence to verify the legitimacy of any contractor before signing up with them.

    How to avoid this scam:

    • Contact FEMA. Call the FEMA helpline at 800-621-3362 to cross-check the contractor's claims. Confirm whether the government will provide coverage and how you may apply for assistance. 
    • Research contractors. Before work begins, check the contractor's license with your state's licensing board website. Confirm that they have valid work permits as well as disability and workers' compensation insurance. Also search the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Google for reviews of contractors to check for scams or complaints.
    • Get a legitimate contract. Insist on a written agreement with clear specifications about the work, costs, completion date, and processes for negotiating changes and settling disputes. Before signing, get a solicitor to review the contract to ensure that there are no errors or blank spaces.

    5. Misusing emergency rental listings

    Many survivors need a temporary home after a flood or hurricane. Scam artists create phantom rentals, or hijack genuine real estate listings by creating duplicate ads. They may even pose as cash-strapped tenants to defraud rental assistance programs.

    These FEMA scams can dupe unsuspecting victims into disclosing their sensitive information to fraudsters.

    When the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office contacted Celeste Broussard, she was surprised to hear that someone claiming to be her tenant had applied for disaster aid.[*]

    Broussard had never heard of the person, let alone rented her property to them. This incident was one of at least six phony applications to the parish's emergency rental assistance program.

    How to avoid this scam:

    • Stay clear of people who ask for advance payments. Ignore anyone who asks you to wire money before you've met in person or signed a lease. Rental assistance programs usually have dedicated websites for applications.
    • Visit the property first. Beware of any landlord who doesn’t want to meet, or claims to be out of the country. You (or someone you trust) must go to the property, meet the owner, and confirm that it's for rent.
    • Research the owner and the listing. If you find any complaints against the owner, or discover that the same property is listed under a different person’s name, these are red flags.

    📚 Related: 10 Airbnb Scams That Will Ruin Your Next Vacation

    6. Bogus charitable organizations

    Invented charities, websites, and campaigns to intercept genuine public donations are common after disasters.

    Guidelines on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) website warn people to take extra care with charitable donations, explaining that you should do your own research to check if organizations are credible.[*]

    Charity scams warning by the FTC
    Source: FTC

    How to avoid this scam:

    • Research legitimate charities. The BBB's Wise Giving Alliance approves reputable charity organizations. You can find information about approved charities at Give.org.
    • Only pay by credit card or check. Scammers want you to make donations via quick-transfer apps like Zelle, gift cards, cryptocurrency, debit cards, or cash. Avoid all of these, as you will be unable to recover stolen funds.
    • Keep a record of all donations. Review your statements to ensure that you aren’t overcharged and that you haven’t unwittingly been set up for recurring payments.

    7. Solicitations for fund transfers

    After Cheryl White met a stranger online, she followed his instructions to buy prepaid debit cards, withdraw money, and eventually mail the funds to an unknown address.[*

    The money loaded onto the prepaid cards came from FEMA disaster grants — and had been released based on fraudulent claims.

    While White didn't file the claims, she knowingly participated in a money mule scam, opening three bank accounts to continue the money laundering. She now faces up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. 

    How to avoid this scam:

    • Research any prospective new employer. Do online searches to check the background of any company or individual offering you a job online.
    • Never accept a job that asks you to transfer money. Regardless of the reason, refuse jobs that require you to make money transfers or purchase gift cards in bulk. You could be duped by a FEMA money mule scam or pulled into a money laundering or investment scam
    • Beware of heartstring scams. Never buy gift cards or cryptocurrency, even as a favor for a potential partner, and be very wary if anyone asks you to do that.

    📚 Related: What Can Scammers Do With Your Bank Account Number?

    How to Report FEMA Scams

    Here are five ways you can contact authorities to help protect your identity and limit financial damages:

    1. Get confirmation from FEMA. If you have doubts about the legitimacy of anyone claiming to be a FEMA representative, call the FEMA helpline at 800-621-3362 to verify their claims. You can also report fraud via email by contacting StopFEMAFraud@fema.dhs.gov.
    2. Contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF). You can report disaster fraud or any suspicious activity pertaining to FEMA on the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) disaster fraud hotline at 866-720-5721.
    3. Speak to local law enforcement. File a report of the suspected FEMA-related fraud with local police officers so that they can start their investigation and potentially prevent others from falling victim.
    4. Make a report on the BBB Scam Tracker. The BBB investigates fraudulent schemes. You can warn others by reporting scams at www.BBB.org/ScamTracker.
    5. File an FTC identity theft report (if applicable). If a FEMA scam has led to someone stealing your identity, you can report the crime to the FTC. Visit IdentityTheft.gov to make an official report.
    Take action: Aura’s $1,000,000 identity theft insurance covers lost wages, phone bills, and other expenses due to identity theft. Try Aura free for 14 days and see if it’s right for you.

    Beware of Fraud After a Natural Disaster Strikes

    Authorities are fighting a constant battle to protect people from FEMA scams. Some preventive measures include the following:

    • Press releases outline specific scam information for citizens of any city or state affected by a disaster, such as a flood or a hurricane.
    • Call the FEMA disaster fraud hotline if you have evidence of FEMA scams or reasons to suspect fraud. 
    • Contact the FEMA Fraud Investigations and Inspections Division at 800-621-3362 or StopFEMAFraud@fema.dhs.gov.
    FEMA Region 6 tweet
    FEMA also posts updates on their social media to warn local residents about false rumors.
    Source: @FEMARegion6

    If a fraudulent FEMA application has been submitted in your name, this is often a sign of identity theft. An identity theft protection service like Aura can help with:

    • Rapid credit monitoring and fraud alerts that flag suspicious activity on all of your bank accounts, credit accounts, and credit reports. Aura alerts you to issues 4x faster than any other digital security provider.
    • Virtual Private Network (VPN) with Wi-Fi and malware protection secures your devices from hackers — allowing you to browse safely with military-grade encryption.
    • Dark Web scanning constantly checks whether any of your personal data, like your SSN, is at risk. 
    • Instantly lock your credit report by using a one-click credit lock feature to prevent unauthorized credit report inquiries.
    • $1,000,000 insurance policy with comprehensive coverage for eligible losses due to identity theft.
    For ironclad identity theft protection, try Aura free for 14 days.

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    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers