LINCOLN–As Nebraskans impacted by the flood are beginning to pick up the pieces and rebuild, many have the added worry and concern of being scammed.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that after a disaster of a magnitude similar to the flooding in Nebraska, scam artists, identity thieves and other criminals often attempt to take advantage of vulnerable survivors.
On April 10, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency published a news release providing information about the post-disaster fraud activities that are occurring in Nebraska. These activities include fraudulent phone calls or home visits, fake offers of federal aid, fraudulent building contractors and dishonest pleas for donations.
In addition to many Nebraska state agencies working to lessen the number of scammers and fraudulent activities, groups and funds have been created throughout the country to fight this same issue.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice and various law enforcement agencies partnered to create the National Center for Disaster Fraud, an agency that improves the detection, prevention, investigation and prosecution of fraud related to natural disasters. According to the Justice Department, since its creation, the NCDF has received over 95,000 complaints relating to disaster fraud.
Suzanne Gage, director of communications at the Nebraska attorney general’s office, said that while an exact number can’t be given for Nebraska, the calls reporting these types of scams have increased since the start of the flooding in March.
Gage also said the official Nebraska government website titled “Protect the Good Life” provides the public with a contractor checklist, a list of items homeowners should confirm and questions they should ask before selecting a contractor to make repairs.
This checklist suggests that the contractor’s credentials should be verified, no document should be signed without confirming the contractor has a license to work, at least three written estimates should be completed before work begins, contractors should be asked for references, contractors should be paid for by a check or credit card and the vehicle information of the contractor should be written down.
If a scam occurs, the victim can submit their claim to this website and wait for an official to review the submission and provide them with advice.
Gage said that while there have been many cases, this is “investigative in nature” and a formal list hasn’t been created for which names of contractors should be avoided. However, a list has been provided on the website of phone numbers and people to contact for assistance. Nebraskans are encouraged to utilize these services to help avoid additional scams.
For more information, visit protectthegoodlife.nebraska.