The Norman Transcript

October 15, 2012

Disaster center closing

Transcript Staff
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) at Twelve Corners Baptist Church has changed its hours for the remaining week and will officially close Saturday, Oct. 20.

The hours have changed to 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The center will no longer be open after 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Visiting the center is not required to be considered for assistance. It is provided to assist those who would like help in filling out forms, checking the status of their claim and registering.

The deadline to apply for federal assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) is Nov. 21. As of Oct. 10, FEMA has provided nearly $4.1 million in grants to Cleveland County wildfire victims. There have been 132 residents register for assistance so far.

Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management (OEM) and FEMA officials are cautioning Cleveland County residents working to rebuild to look out for phony building contractors and other scam artists that often take advantage of people following a disaster.

“In the wake of a disaster, it’s common to see the generous side of human nature. Unfortunately, there are also those people who try to take advantage of victims during this stressful time,” said Michelann Ooten, OEM Deputy Director and State Coordinating Officer.

“Disasters often bring out the best and worst in people,” said FEMA’s Federal Coordinating Officer William J. Doran III. “We strongly recommend that those who are rebuilding their homes and lives take a few simple steps to make sure they’re dealing with a reputable person.”

Housing inspectors: If a home’s damage is visible from the street, the homeowner may be especially vulnerable to the phony housing inspector who claims to represent FEMA or the SBA. Residents can ask to see the inspector’s identification badge. All federal employees and contractors carry official, laminated photo identification.

Also, FEMA inspectors never require banking information. Officials advise to never give your bank account number to an inspector claiming to be affiliated with the federal government.

The only time individuals will provide a Social Security number and banking information is when registering for FEMA assistance. Federal and state workers do not solicit or accept money.

FEMA also does not endorse specific contractors to fix homes or recommend repairs. They contract with inspectors to verify losses.

Building contractors: Visible damage from the street can also bring out scam contractors who visit your home offering to begin work immediately, usually for an upfront payment. Most legitimate contractors will have more work than they can handle after a disaster and will provide you a written estimate for completion.

Officials advise when hiring a contractor to use a licensed local contractor backed by reliable references when possible. Also, get a written estimate from at least three contractors, including the cost of labor and materials and read the fine print.

Things to check when hiring a contractor include:

· Demand that contractors carry general liability insurance and workers’ compensation. If they don’t you may be liable for accidents that occur on your property.

· Note that the state of Oklahoma doesn’t license residential construction contractors, except in the electrical, mechanical and plumbing trades. But there are some special requirements for non-resident contractors.

· To find out if an electrician, plumber or mechanical contractor is licensed in Oklahoma, call the Oklahoma Construction Industries Board at 405-521-6650 or toll-free at 877-484-4424 or check online at http://cibverify.gov.

Bogus pleas for post-disaster donations: Disaster aid solicitations may arrive by phone, email, letter or face-to-face visits. You can ensure the solicitation is legitimate if you:

· Ask for the charity’s exact name, street address, phone number, and web address, then phone the charity directly and confirm that the person asking for funds is an employee or volunteer.

· Think before you give cash — instead, pay by check made out to the charity in case you must stop funds later.

· Request a receipt with the charity’s name, street address, phone number and web address (if applicable). Legitimate nonprofit agencies routinely provide receipts for tax purposes.

Fake offers of state or federal aid: If someone claiming to be from FEMA or the state visits, calls or emails asking for your Social Security number, bank account number or other sensitive information, be cautious. Don’t provide any personal information unless you make the initial call.

· Do not trust any phone or in-person solicitor who promises to speed up the insurance, disaster assistance or building permit process.

· Some scam artists may promise to provide a disaster grant in return for large cash deposits or advance payments in full. Never agree to pay any amount of money for a disaster grant.

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If you suspect someone is perpetrating fraud, call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721. Complaints may also be made to local law enforcement agencies and to the Oklahoma Office of the Attorney General at 1-918-581-2885 or online at www.oag.state.ok.us.

To register for FEMA assistance visit www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362 or TTY 1-800-462-7585. FEMA phone lines are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT seven days a week. Multilingual operators are available.

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