Here’s What Scammers Are Telling Harvey Victims — and Here’s the Truth

A flooded home with a hole cut in the roof sits in floodwaters caused Tropical Storm Harvey in Port Arthur, Texas on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. AP Photo/LM Otero
A flooded home with a hole cut in the roof sits in floodwaters caused Tropical Storm Harvey in Port Arthur, Texas on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. AP Photo/LM Otero

In the middle of a crisis, rumors and scams run wild. Even if you’re normally vigilant, it’s easy to fall prey to someone looking to take advantage of an already bad situation.

That’s why the Federal Emergency Management Agency has set up a special page on its website and is updating it regularly. FEMA officials want to keep well-meaning people who want to help from spreading false information and prevent scammers from swindling Hurricane Harvey victims.

Hurricane Harvey Flood Insurance Scam

According to FEMA, there have been several reports from Texans who say they received robocalls claiming their flood insurance was past due.

The prerecorded message went on to say that if the victims wanted to continue their coverage, they needed to go to a specific website to make a payment.

FEMA says this is a scam.

“Insurance companies and agents selling flood insurance policies do not use this process to communicate with customers about their flood insurance policies,” FEMA’s warning said. “In fact, if your payment is past due, your insurance company will send you several pieces of mail 90, 60, and 30 days before the policy expires.”

If you get a call like this, hang up immediately and call your insurance company to verify that your policy is up to date. FEMA also provides instructions for those who need help filing a flood claim.

Others also reported hearing rumors that if they did not file a flood claim by Sept. 1, their insurance coverage could be negatively impacted by a change in Texas law. That is also false.

Scammers Target Immigrants, Too

FEMA has also received reports of people impersonating Homeland Security Investigations agents.

According to the emergency response agency, HSI agents and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are in Texas assisting with disaster relief efforts but aren’t conducting immigration enforcement operations in the areas hit worst by the hurricane.

Real immigration officers will have on proper uniforms and carry badges and credentials to identify themselves.

FEMA has also debunked a rumor that claimed undocumented immigrants who go to shelters would be turned over to ICE or U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers.

“The Red Cross will not ask people to show any form of identification in order to stay in their shelters,” FEMA reported. “In order to receive some Red Cross services… they will need to verify a person’s pre-disaster address. For people who don’t have government-issued identification, the Red Cross can usually do this through alternative means, such as a copy of a utility bill.”

Real and Fake Disaster-Relief Job Opportunities

Finally, whether you are a Texas resident who was spared the worst of the storm or an out-of-towner looking for ways to help, there have been two jobs floating around.

If you saw a flyer titled “FEMA Field Inspectors needed ASAP” that said there were jobs that pay between $4,000 and $5,000 a week, that’s real — but the positions are limited.

For the most up-to-date information on open positions with FEMA’s Hurricane Harvey efforts, check FEMA’s jobs page. You can also check out a list of approved volunteer opportunities here.

Another rumor claimed FEMA was hiring 1,000 people to work for $2,000 a week. People were told to call a phone number that started with 888-776-XXXX. This is a scam. If you come across this, don’t call.

Remember, scammers act quickly, and new ways to steal your money or personal information are constantly cropping up. If you hear of anything that seems too good to be true, check FEMA’s rumor control site to see if it’s a known scam or a rumor that has already been debunked.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.