As the rivers in Illinois continue to recede, a complete assessment of flood damage to homes and businesses becomes apparent. For people who are still living in temporary shelters, there is a sense of urgency to repair damage and get back home. Compounding the issue at this emotional time may be the lack of contractors or contractors with a lengthy waiting list. As tempting as it is to enlist the aid of anyone who can help, the rule of thumb is “beware.”

“There are many opportunities for the scamming and fraud of homeowners who are trying to get back to normal,” according to Pam Atkinson, consumer economics educator for University of Illinois Extension. “It can be difficult to tell the difference from those truly wanting to help and those wanting to help themselves to your money.”

 Here are a few rules of thumb to consider when enlisting people to help with the repair of your home.

 1.   As Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), and local governmental officials conduct preliminary damage assessments:

 a.   Always ask for Identification- if someone represents themselves as a government employee and does not automatically produce identification, ask to see it. A shirt or jacket with a logo is not proof of someone’s affiliation with the government. State and Federal employees carry photo identification with them at all times.

 b.   Safeguard your personal information- do not give out personal identification information like social security numbers, or bank account numbers to individuals who visit your home. Government officials will never ask for this information. Likewise never give this information out over the phone or in an e-mail. Federal, state, and local agencies like FEMA or IEMA assessment teams never require this information.

 c.   Under no circumstances are FEMA, IEMA or Small Business Administration (SMA) representatives allowed to take money. If someone claiming to be a government employee attempts to collect money, report their information and vehicle numbers to police right away.

 2.   Be wary of people going door to door offering contracting work. Phrases like “we will be working in your neighborhood on…” should be cause for alarm. Always ask for written estimates, references (and check them) and don’t pay for the entire project up front.

 3.   Be aware that the repair will probably take longer than you want but make sure that contractors are working as you have agreed to. People who don’t show up when they are supposed to or work a short time and leave may not be completing the project in a timely manner. You may want to have someone at the home to supervise the work.

 4.  Check out the contractor’s business information with local trades unions, and with the Better Business Bureau. Make sure they are registered and see what positive and negative comments are on file.

 Damage, like that caused by the area’s recent flooding, is devastating. Help ensure the devastation doesn’t continue. Make sure your contractors and other repair people are licensed, bonded, insured and legitimate.

 If you suspect you have been scammed, don’t be embarrassed” said Atkinson. “Many are very smooth and well-practiced in appearing legitimate.” Call the FEMA Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721.

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