Authorities Warn Flood Victims To Be Alert For Fraud

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(Host) As Vermonters begin to assess the damage from Tropical Storm Irene, authorities are warning flood victims to be alert for potential fraud.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says unscrupulous repairmen sometimes pose as government inspectors. FEMA officials say the public should always ask for identification to make sure they are dealing with legitimate inspectors.

VPR’s John Dillon went out with a FEMA team, and filed this report:

(Dillon) Pat and Mark Austin’s mobile home in Moretown mostly survived last week’s high water. A nearby bridge, built in 1928 after an earlier catastrophic flood, did not.

The bridge dangles at a contorted angle, ripped off its foundation by the river. Logs, debris and remnants of round hay bales are wedged in the iron work. Mark Austin describes what happened to the bridge the night the Mad River went crazy.

(Austin) "You can see it diverted the water like snow off a snow plow blade right through there. And that’s what got the trailer basically. It was four inches from the window, the water.

(Dillon) The Austins are just beginning to assess the damage to their home. And today, a FEMA team has arrived to help them tally up their loss.

(Inspector) "Hi! Nice to meet you, Mark Simons…"

(Mark Austin) "Floor’s almost dry. And we found the bill. You can see by the amount we pay on it you’re going to know we don’t have flood insurance."

(Dillon) Mark Simons works for Alltech, a government contractor hired by FEMA to do home inspections. As the Austins’ dog barks her annoyance in the background, Simons and a FEMA representative walk through the small trailer, asking questions and entering data into a tablet computer.

(Simons)" Okay, you did mention, I saw the porch around back, the concrete steps actually floated away and you brought that back."

(Austin) "Yeah, we can’t open this door. So it’s got to be all dug out." 

(Dillon) Inspections like these are required before the Austins and other flood victims can receive up to $30,200 dollars to help pay for home repair or temporary housing.

FEMA spokeswoman Deanna Frazier says the public should be on guard against scam artists and fraudulent contractors.

(Frazier) "That’s what people see occasionally: an inspector that comes to the home that is not from FEMA but says they are. You need to make sure they do have identification on them. More often than not if you ask them for identification and they do not have it, they’re going to hightail it out of there pretty fast.

(Dillon) Frazier says one common fraud is for a bogus inspector to recommend a certain contractor to do the home repairs.

(Frazier) "An erroneous inspector comes up and wants to get into the home and oftentimes try to get them to commit to certain types of repairs. And that’s not what FEMA does. FEMA does not repair your home. We do provide monetary assistance to those who are eligible."

(Dillon) FEMA says it’s important for flood victims to document what they’ve spent in order to qualify for assistance.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Moretown.

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