After a natural disaster bad guys will use every opportunity to scam and defraud you. They know that you are focused on other things, such a maintaining or rebuilding. They know that you may have limited resources, such as no power or internet. This gives them an advantage.
Within two days of hurricane Irma hitting Florida, FEMA was receiving fake applications for assistance. One family in Bonita Springs, FL lost their home and their belongings after their home was flooded. They were low income and could not afford to pay for a hotel or another form of temporary shelter. The father applied for FEMA benefits, which would pay $500.00 to assist with shelter for those displaced by the storm. Upon applying he learned that someone had already applied for and received the benefit of $500.00. Someone had used his identity.
Bad guys watch the news to see which areas were hardest hit as FEMA benefits are often approved and paid based on the person’s address and/or zip code. A simple search online will reveal the identity of the person or persons residing at the impacted address. When applying for FEMA benefits you will be asked to provide your social security number. It is unclear if FEMA matches the name with the social security number to verify the application. A few of the victims in Florida learned that the social security number provided on the application was not their actual social security number. However, due to the numerous fake applications received and processed after hurricane Irma, FEMA stated that they were looking to improve their verification process.
There are two warning signs of a fake FEMA application filed using your information.
- When you submit an application, you are notified that you have already submitted one.
- When you submit an application, you are notified that you have already received benefits.
- You receive a letter from the Small Business Administration (SBA) stating that while you were not eligible for FEMA benefits you may qualify for an SBA disaster assistance loan.
In Florida, many were receiving the letter from the SBA but dismissed it as a potential scam. If you should receive a letter, contact the SBA at the number provided on their website https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela or call 1-800-659-2955 (TTY/TDD: 1-800-877-8339).
To apply for FEMA disaster assistance please visit www.DisasterAssistance.gov. It should be noted that Irma victims were given the option to receive disaster claim assistance updates via text message. If you should receive a text message that appears to be from FEMA or the SBA, log in to your application account or contact them at the telephone numbers provided. Do not rush to reply to the text message or call the phone number provided in the text as it could be a smishing scam message. The below information was taken directly from the FEMA website located at https://www.disasterassistance.gov/help/contact-us
If you need emergency help, please call 9-1-1.
You should only use the contacts listed here to contact FEMA for disaster-related matters. You may also find answers to common questions in our FAQs.
Contact the FEMA Helpline if you have questions about:
- The help offered by FEMA.
- How to apply for assistance.
- Information in your account.
Call 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET, 7 days a week:
- 1-800-621-FEMA (1-800-621-3362)
- TTY 1-800-462-7585
- 711 or VRS 1-800-621-3362
- You can also send an email from the Disaster Assistance webform.
- Or write to:
P.O. Box 10055
Hyattsville, MD 20782-8055
FEMA Internet Help Desk
Contact the FEMA Internet Help Desk for help with:
- Access to your account.
- Lost or forgotten user ID, password, or PIN.
- Errors or other site-related problems.
Call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:
FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers
FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs) are accessible meeting places set up after a disaster. There you can learn about FEMA or other assistance programs. You may also ask questions about your case or seek guidance on other disaster-related issues. The services offered at each DRC may vary.
There are two ways to find a DRC near you:
- Use the DRC Locator to find addresses and DRC details. Find info like the hours of operation, services offered, and driving directions.
- Text DRC and a Zip Code to 4FEMA (43362). Example: DRC 01234. Using this option doesn’t add you to any messaging service. It’s just like doing a search on the Web. (Standard text rates may apply.)