Growing concerns over FEMA fraud, scammers pretending to be victims
ST. GABRIEL - There's growing concern over FEMA fraud after Hurricane Ida.
Wednesday, 2 On Your Side told you about a FEMA claim filed with someone's name and address, but the wrong phone number. That person never filed a claim and reported it as fraud when FEMA went to her house looking for more information. Since that story, WBRZ has received a few reports of similar incidents.
The problem is with people who don't know their information is being used to file wrongful claims on their behalf. Thursday, 2 On Your Side asked FEMA if there's a way to look up your information to see if a claim has been filed in your name. There isn't, and FEMA doesn't recommend people call to check.
Phil Doiron lives in St. Gabriel and says earlier this week a Vanguard Inspector Services, a FEMA subcontractor, knocked on his door to review his storm damage in response to a filed claim.
"He had all of his credentials and he asked if he could look at my damage I had on my claim," Doiron said.
Except Doiron never filed a disaster claim with FEMA.
"Right away he said my identity had been stolen, and he said someone made a claim in my name," Doiron said.
The representative who knocked on Doiron's door said FEMA had all of his information, including his social security number. He was told to contact FEMA's fraud hotline and report it.
Doiron says he's been having trouble getting through to the fraud line but did reach someone at the regular FEMA number who confirmed they had all his information for a submitted claim and it had already been paid.
"It's amazing how inefficient the government is, just sending out this money to people going online filing these claims."
Doiron likely would have had no idea had that FEMA representative not stopped by his house.
As of Wednesday, FEMA says it's approved more than 513,000 applications for disaster assistance and more than $752 million to help Louisiana residents recover.
FEMA says representatives are in neighborhoods helping people to sign up for assistance. They will ask for social security numbers and bank account numbers when an application is submitted and may ask for it again after you apply. It warns that applicants should be cautious because scam artists can pose as government officials. Remember to ask for an ID badge. A FEMA jacket or shirt doesn't necessarily mean they are representing the organization. FEMA will not contact you unless you have called FEMA first or applied for assistance.
That is unless you're like Doiron and someone submitted your information without your knowledge.
While the concern over fraudulent submissions is high, FEMA does not recommend people call into the Helpline to check if someone else has made an application in their name. Instead, FEMA recommends that people stay current with their credit report information and make note of any suspicious activity.
It is most often the individual or applicant that notifies FEMA of suspected fraud against their identity. More information about disaster fraud can be found here.
It's not quite clear how FEMA will handle Doiron's fraud claim it paid out, but it says it does go after claims flagged as fraud. You can report scams, fraud and identity theft to FEMA's disaster fraud hotline at 866-720-5721. A recording might tell you to fill out a form online due to high call volume.