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Disaster brings out the dastardly

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With every crisis, there is always someone looking to take advantage of innocent people dealing with unfortunate events in their lives. Regular people who may have their guard down due to a stressful event are more susceptible to fraud. Criminals seek and plot around natural disasters to make a dishonest buck. They develop elaborate plans to take money by promising them something in return, which never comes to fruition.

Currently, just as it was during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, fake FEMA scammers and fraudulent contractors are coming after people's hard-earned money.

This takes shape in the form of a phone call, an email, a text message or even a Facebook Messenger message. The scammers have also even been known to go door to door to gain access to people's homes so they can case the home and personal belongings so they can return to steal. It is essential to remain cautious and vigilant when it comes to who you allow access to your personal information, personal finances or even your home.

What does this look like in how can someone keep from losing their money to these scammers? Here are some vital tips to help you and your loved ones keep from getting scammed and ripped off by these no-good schemers.

  • Local, state or federal officials will ever contact you and ask for payment to process a claim for disaster assistance.
  • FEMA has an official government website with a lot of useful information in determining whether or not someone is a legitimate FEMA agent. The FEMA website will never take credit cards for donations or payments.
  • Never release personal information over the phone. Always ask questions to identify who you are speaking to over the phone.
  • Never make any payment using a gift card or a reloadable card or use a money-wiring system to send money to anyone claiming to be from any government agency. At no time ever will a government agency ask you to pay with any reloadable gift card or wire transfer.
  • Always verify insurance when using contractors. They should have disability and workers compensation insurance. If they do not, you can be held liable for any injury that occurs while working on your home or property.
  • Never pay upfront for any work. If a contractor asks for a deposit upfront, request a written contract through an attorney for the job.
  • Please take a picture of the actual contractor, their license plate, their vehicle, their driver's license, their business card to verify they have the proper permits and licensing necessary to perform the task in doing the job.
  • Always think things through, ask questions, get multiple quotes from multiple contractors and ask friends and neighbors advice before making any decision regarding repairs or hiring contractors.

As always, report any concerns about potential fraud to your local law enforcement or you can contact The Texas office of the attorney general by calling 800 621 0508 or call the free FEMA disaster fraud hotline at 866 720 5721, available 24 hours a day.