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Officials warn flood victims about scams

July 29, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - State and federal officials are warning people who sustained flood damage in June to beware of anyone seeking personal information over the telephone or anyone who claims to register people for a fee to receive disaster assistance.

"In the past, callers have instructed the disaster victim to supply them with (their) bank account number and authorize them to electronically withdraw funds from the account. In return, the caller promises the victim a grant from the state to cover personal property losses due to the disaster," according to the statement from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

PEMA warns that there never is a processing fee to register for assistance or a request to authorize the use of funds. Anyone receiving such a call should report it to the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection hot line at 800-441-2555.

The only way to register for disaster assistance with FEMA is by calling 800-621-3362 or online at www.fema.gov.

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PEMA also is asking property owners, renters and businesses who have received loan applications from the U.S. Small Business Administration to return the completed forms, even if they do not want a loan.

"Even if the application is declined, the process opens the door for other disaster assistance," Commonwealth Coordinating Officer James R. Joseph said in a statement issued by PEMA.

When an applicant is referred to the SBA, the application needs to be submitted before other federal aid options are considered, according to PEMA. Filling out the application does not guarantee approval of a loan or mean the applicant must accept the loan.

Homeowners may apply for loans of up to $200,000, renters for up to $40,000 and businesses for up to $1.5 million. The SBA has approved about $3 million in loans in Pennsylvania, according to Federal Coordinating Officer Tom Davies.

As of late last week, 273 property owners in Franklin County had applied to FEMA for disaster assistance, and about 90 applicants had gone to the disaster recovery center at the Norland Shopping Center for further help in obtaining assistance, according to county figures.

The late June floods damaged more than 200 homes, many of them in three mobile home parks in Greene Township that were evacuated at the height of the flooding. Local governments also have tallied about $450,000 in damages and other costs associated with the storm, officials said.

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