FEMA reps in parishes with no damage, sheriff says citizens are concerned
BATON ROUGE - There are dozens, probably many more, of FEMA fraud complaints under investigation. It's unlikely anyone will be able to stop the scammers stealing people's names and filing phony disaster claims. One sheriff is fed up and has a message about just how out of control it has become.
For the last couple of weeks, 2 On Your Side has asked FEMA just how bad the fraud situation is following Hurricane Ida. FEMA can't quite say but is aware it's happening. Now Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi says his phones are busy with complaints.
"We're averaging between eight and 10 calls per day as FEMA representatives have shown up at houses in Iberville Parish requesting to see the damage that was done to their homes." said Stassi. "These individuals have not filed FEMA claims."
The reports of fraud have been discovered as FEMA representatives show up in parishes following Hurricane Ida. Those reps are responding to filed claims in parishes where there was no damage from the storm.
The representatives are sometimes from Vanguard Inspection Services, contracted by FEMA. They are showing up to homes with names and other information as if someone's filed a damage claim, but they haven't.
Stassi says it's worrying people in Iberville Parish, where there are numerous complaints right now.
"It immediately scares them to death, and then they start worrying about their personal banking," Stassi said.
And whether or not their information has been compromised. Stassi says he's been getting calls from other sheriffs, including Pointe Coupee, East Baton Rouge and West Baton Rouge.
Mike Prejean lives in Port Allen. He says his street is damage-free, but FEMA reps have been knocking on doors there.
"It was pretty obvious. You drove by and there's nothing," he said. "I know there's at least five people on my street where they went to their house."
If you aren't home, a FEMA rep might leave a note on your door to call them back regardless of whether you filed a claim.
"I just don't know what information they got and how do we find out other than checking our credit score?" Prejean said.
Stassi says it's worrying the public and that FEMA reps visiting his parish say these reps could be using their time better somewhere else.
"They could be in Houma, Lafourche, Terrebonne, where the people have really suffered," Stassi said. "St. John, St. James, and we have representatives running around our parish where we have no damage."
FEMA says inspectors will always have an official identification badge. Always ask to see ID. Any FEMA inspector or other employee with an expired badge is not to be considered as a legitimate representative of the Agency.
FEMA says people who have been impacted by such scams are urged to call the FEMA Helpline, 800-621-3362, to report what happened. FEMA will then flag the fraudulent registration. Those citizens who had not yet registered, but who have legitimate reasons to do so, will be helped to overcome the fraud and file a normal request for help from FEMA.
The Department of Justice is also getting involved, urging suspected Hurricane Ida fraud victims to file complaints with disaster fraud at 866-720-5721.