How to Protect Yourself from Post-Disaster Scams

Mixed media artist Gregory Warmack (aka Mr. Imagination) surveys the 2008 fire damage at his Bethlehem, PA home and studio. (photo credit: Greg Heller-Labelle) (NOTE: Mr I passed away in 2012)

Mixed media artist Gregory Warmack (aka Mr. Imagination) surveys the fire damage at his home and studio. (photo credit: Greg Heller-Labelle)

Validating Relief Agencies


miniicons5-97 If you’re unsure about the authenticity of a FEMA or Small Business Administration (SBA) representative, call1-800-621-FEMA, ext. 3362, and select the helpline option to speak with an operator. For those with a speech or hearing impairment, call TTY: 1-800-462-7585.


  • There is never a fee to apply for FEMA disaster assistance or to receive it.
  • There is no fee for FEMA or SBA property damage inspections.
  • Government workers will never ask for a fee or payment. They wear official badges. FEMA inspectors carry the registration number assigned to the applicant at the time they register.
  • Safeguard personal information. Never give out social security numbers or credit card numbers to someone you have not fully checked out. FEMA will never ask you for bank account information or your Social Security number unless you initiate the call.
Validating Contractors

Caution sign icon Only use licensed contractors. Verify their identity and legitimacy. (Call your local Department of Labor and Industry to determine if a contractor is registered with the state.) Be wary of anyone who wants cash or full payment up front.

Get at least three written estimates for repair work. Check credentials and contact your local Better Business Bureau and Chamber of Commerce to see if there are any complaints against the contractor or business.

Before work begins, obtain a written contract detailing the work to be performed, costs, completion date and procedures to negotiate changes and settle disputes. Demand and check references before entering into a contract — and read the fine print before signing. Refuse to sign a contract with blank spaces.

Ask for proof of insurance — i.e., liability and Worker’s Compensation.

If the contractor provides any guarantees, they should be in the contract, and clearly state what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee, and how long the guarantee is valid.

Make final payments only after the work is completed. Do not pay in cash, use a check, or as FEMA recommends, a credit card so you can dispute the payment later if necessary. A reasonable down payment may be required to pay for materials needed, but do not make any payments without a contract.

Validating Disaster Relief Charities

Shield and emergency cross icon Always check out an organization, such as a charity or nonprofit, before sending money or allowing a courier to pick up money at your home or office.

GuideStar is a useful online tool for doing this, and a search on “research charities” brings up several others. Then call the charity or nonprofit organization before making a donation.

Never act immediately. If someone presses you, tell them you’ll get back to them later. All reputable organizations will give you time to think things over.

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