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DISASTER RECOVERY BEGINS: HOW TO FIND HELP, AVOID SCAMS

DISASTER RECOVERY BEGINS: HOW TO FIND HELP, AVOID SCAMS

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Hurricane Harvey may have moved on, but the aftermath will linger for quite some time as people look to get back on track and rebuild their lives in the wake of this disaster. Fortunately, there are some resources available for those affected by the devastation. Unfortunately, it’s also important to avoid scams that seek to target disaster victims.

The Disaster Assistance Improvement Program is one source for help. The federal organization, a partner of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was founded in 2006 by President George W. Bush to help people receive access to disaster recovery information and to make the application process smoother.

With an overwhelming amount of destruction experienced in some areas of Texas, unfortunately, there’s also plenty of misinformation. FEMA officials are urging people to “be alert for false rumors, scams, identity theft and fraud” in the wake of this disaster.

“Although many Americans are working hard to help their neighbors now, during chaotic times, some will always try to take advantage of the most vulnerable,” stated a FEMA press release.

To protect people from disaster fraud, FEMA offers the following tips:

  • Federal and state workers do not ask for or accept money. FEMA staff will never charge applicants for disaster assistance, home inspections, or help in filling out applications. Stay alert for false promises to speed up insurance, disaster assistance, or building permit process.
  • In person, always ask to see any FEMA employee ID badges. FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance teams may be in impacted communities providing information and assisting survivors with the registration process or their applicant files.
  • A FEMA shirt or jacket is not proof of identity. All FEMA representatives, including contracted inspectors, will have a laminated photo ID. All National Flood Insurance Program adjusters will have a NFIP Authorized Adjuster card with their name and the types of claims they adjust.
  • If you aren’t sure or comfortable with someone you encounter claiming to be an emergency management official, do not give out personal information,and contact local law enforcement.
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Another thing to keep in mind is that flood insurance does not cover everything in the home, just certain essential items. Unfortunately, homeowner’s insurance does not cover flood damage, and many people do not have flood insurance. For those that do, items typically covered, according to Consumer Reports, include:

  • Electrical and plumbing systems
  • Furnaces
  • Water heaters
  • Air conditioners
  • Refrigerators and freezers
  • Ranges
  • Dishwashers
  • Washers and dryers
  • Carpets and window treatments
  • Paneling, wallboard, bookcases, and cabinets
  • Some personal property, including clothing furniture and electronics (but only if not stored in a basement).

When it comes to real help, be aware that all types of assistance may not be available in every area affected by the disaster. For example, some funds may only be available to people in places that are officially declared disaster areas. Fortunately, there are a variety of resources available, so people who are not eligible for one type of assistance may be eligible for another.

To get assistance online, visit https://www.disasterassistance.gov/. There is an online questionnaire to fill out as part of the process.

The website also has a list of links to various federal, state and local programs that are available to help people with recovery efforts here.

To apply by phone for disaster assistance, call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY text telephone for the hearing impaired at 1-800-462-7585.

A checklist of information that applicants will need is available here.

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