By Melody Vallieu
MIAMI COUNTY — Following last week’s flooding in Miami County, residents need to be aware of the scams that often follow disasters.
Miami County officials warn consumers in stricken areas about fraudulent home repair offers and individuals trying to present themselves as government officials.
According to Jim Bowell, HAZMAT coordinator for the Miami County Emergency Management Agency, they have already heard from three county residents that people claiming to represent the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, have come to the doors of flood victims.
Miami County EMA has had representatives in many areas conducting preliminary damage assessments, but no one from the state of Ohio or FEMA has been in the area yet. He said homeowners should always ask for two forms of photo identification — for the agency they work for and a valid driver’s license — if someone is representing themselves as a government, county or city employee.
Fraudsters aim at disaster affected areas, hoping to cash in on property owners’ insurance settlements and any possible federal government relief. Home and business owners who are considering whether to hire a contractor should:
• Not give out personal or financial information — including your credit card or bank account number.
• Verify that the contractor is licensed, bonded and insured.
• Check the contractor’s identification and references.
• Avoid paying more than the minimum in advance.
• Deal with reputable people in your community.
Bowell suggests working with Miami County companies for repairs — not those coming from Cincinnati and other outlying areas and knocking on doors, as homeowners will be less knowledgeable of the company and their reputation. Bowell said many of the scams are the same people coming back to the county over and over.
He also suggests always contacting the Better Business Bureau at 222-5825 or (800) 776-5301 before giving any money or information to a contractor to make sure they are a real company and in good standing with the BBB.
“If people are coming from outside the county, try to stay with local businesses,” he said. “Verify them with the BBB before you give any important information to the contractor.”
Bowell said scammers will come in and ask for half — or even all — of the money up front to do the repair work. They will then sometimes do a little of the work or do no work and schedule a future appointment to do or finish the work — but never return to complete the work and take off with the residents’ money.
“They’ll either try to get credit card information or banking information and not perform any work at all,” he said.
Bowell said if the homeowner questions the validity of the contractor, they also can call the non-emergency number at 440-9911 and ask for a police officer or deputy to come out and check with the supposed contractor.
“If it’s not factual, they’ll leave in a hurry before law enforcement gets there,” Bowell said. “If they are legitimate, they will stay and be more than happy to speak to an officer or deputy.”
While Bowell said the Miami County EMA has been going out and doing damage assessments, there is little more they can do to help flood victims. Residents need to work with their insurance companies.