FEMA describes warning signs of fraudulent home inspectors

SEBASTIAN, Fla. - As home inspections continue following Hurricane Irma, FEMA warns the public of scammers pretending to be inspectors to get ahold of people’s personal information.

"Don’t take anyone at face value, especially during a disaster," said Nikki Gaskins, media relations specialist for FEMA.

Gaskins said FEMA inspectors won't ask for personal information, bank account information or money while inspecting property damage. 

The only time someone should provide personal information is during the initial application process or when following up on an application. FEMA inspectors will only ask for verification of identity.

"Take that as a red flag if they start asking for personal information or asking for banking information because that’s not something a FEMA inspector does," she said.

She also said FEMA inspectors will coordinate an appointment by phone ahead of time within 10 days of someone registering with FEMA. They'll bring along the person's nine-digit registration number and they will only take pictures of damage.

"If someone just randomly shows up and is acting a little suspicious or nervous or asking you really personal information and just seems to be snooping around, by all means, we want you to call law enforcement because we’d rather you be safe than sorry," she said.

That's what Becky Crippen did the day after a woman claiming to be a FEMA inspector showed up at her door on Louisiana Avenue in Sebastian Monday morning.

She reported the inspector to police because she said her family never even registered for disaster assistance, the house didn't have any damage, she hadn't heard from anyone before the woman knocked on the door and the inspector also asked for personal information.

"My husband opened the door. The lady started rattling off that she was from FEMA. She was an inspector. She needed to come in our house and inspect our house," she said.

Crippen said the woman took pictures of her ceiling and other parts of the house, which did not have any storm damage, and she asked for personal information, including her husband's signature. 

“She wanted our dates of birth and then she wanted to see my husband’s driver’s license and I believe she took a picture of his driver’s license too," she said.

She started worrying the woman who got all of this information about her family could be a fraud, which is why she contacted police.

“We’ve gone to our bank. We’ve put alerts on all our banking accounts," she said. "I’ve called the credit bureaus and we’ve put an alert on those. I’ve called my credit card companies.”

The Sebastian Police Department said Indian River County deputies tracked down the woman who showed up at the Crippen’s house Monday. She does work for Vanguard Emergency Management, a FEMA contractor, so she is a legitimate inspector.

Crippen still doesn't know why the woman came to her house for an inspection considering her family didn't register for disaster assistance.

A call into Vanguard Emergency Management went unreturned.

Gaskins said people should ask for an inspector's FEMA identification badge and if they have any doubts, call the police.

"If a FEMA inspector comes to your house and just shows up out of the blue and you yourself know that you have not suffered any type of damage or loss, and yet they’re there to say they’re here to document damage, take that as a big warning. Just be very cautious," she said.

People can also call the FEMA Disaster Fraud hotline at 866-720-5721.

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