ORLANDO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - If someone claiming to be a FEMA inspector shows up at your door without warning, the agency says the worker may be legit – it’s the claim that may be fraud.
Leaders with the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned Tuesday that all of the recent hurricane damage has increased the risk for people filing false damage claims using other peoples’ information.
Dessteny Carden of Orlando may have encountered just that when an inspector came to her door recently following up on a claim filed by her roommate, Charles. The only problem, she says, Charles died unexpectedly about a month before Hurricane Irma hit.
“I'm like, 'that's unusual, because he's deceased,” said Carden. "He was like, 'well we have a FEMA claim from him.'"
At first she worried that the inspector wasn’t who he said he was, and those worries were only made worse when she took to social media. On a local Facebook group, she found several other people posting that someone came to their door claiming to be following up on a FEMA claim they never made. One woman said the man said it came from her husband but he hadn’t filed anything, nor did they have any storm damage.
Same for Carden; she said her house was barely touched by Irma. She said she contacted FEMA and found the same thing we did: the company the inspector had credentials for is contracted to inspect damage claims for FEMA. Carden and others said the man had FEMA credentials too.
FEMA representative David Burns said the agency’s inspectors don’t come to your door unless you’ve filed a claim, so the situation sounds more like a different problem: fraudulent claims.
"Obviously if you are home and did not submit a claim, there's a possibility someone did submit a fraudulent claim on your behalf,” said Burns.
Burns said someone may do that to get emergency grant money meant to help actual victims.
The agency has added security to their claims process to avoid such fraud, but Burns said with the massive number of claims coming in from the storms it’s very possible that people are taking advantage.
FEMA asks anyone who believes a claim may have been made in their name fraudulently to report it immediately to the National Center for Disaster Fraud at (866) 720-5721 or via email at email@example.com.
The agency also recommends you check with your credit card companies and credit bureaus for other potential fraud committed in your name.
After all, Carden said the claim had information like her late roommate’s birthday. She worries what else may have been attempted in his name.
"The whole thing is unbelievable!" said Carden.
Burns said submitting a fraudulent FEMA claim is a federal offence punishable by 30 years in prison and up to a quarter million dollars in fines.
He also encourages residents to be careful that inspectors coming to their home are real. He says all inspectors will have FEMA identification and they will never ask for money. If you’re uncertain about an inspector, contact police just in case.