Emergency teams warn against fraud attempts

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida's State Emergency Response Team and the Federal Emergency Management Agency community relations teams are in 11 counties going door to door with disaster assistance information to help survivors recover from Tropical Storm Debby, and they're warning residents about fraud attempts.

Anyone representing SERT or FEMA, including FEMA-contracted home and property damage inspectors, carries a photo ID ensuring they are easily identifiable. FEMA and SERT teams wear agency shirts.

The teams are visiting with individuals to provide information on resources that are available and to identify people who need assistance in the federally designated counties of Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Franklin, Hernando, Highlands, Pasco, Pinellas, Suwannee and Wakulla.

Officials with the FEMA and SERT teams will not request personal information such as Social Security or bank account numbers. Survivors will be asked to provide personal information only when calling FEMA to register the first time.

Once a survivor has registered with FEMA, an inspector will call and set up an appointment to see the damaged property. The inspector will ask for identification and proof of ownership and occupancy (for homeowners) or occupancy only (for renters).

Official FEMA-contracted housing inspectors assess damage but do not determine cost estimates. They do not charge a survivor for this inspection service. FEMA contractors are not allowed to endorse a contractor or to hire someone on behalf of the survivor.

Suspicions of fraud or attempts to scam survivors should be reported to local law enforcement immediately. People who suspect anyone of committing contractor fraud should contact the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation by calling 866-532-1440 or by emailing ULA@dbpr.state.fl.us.

Survivors are encouraged to register with FEMA by calling 800-621-FEMA (3362), going online to www.DisasterAssistance.gov or using the FEMA app or m.FEMA.gov with a smartphone or tablet.