Be wary of fraud. That is the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management's warning to individuals and business owners affected by the recent ice storms.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is also advising that people heed the warning.

Home owners should be sure they are dealing with FEMA officials before providing any personal information. There is never a fee or charge for any FEMA services, state officials said Friday.

Those who suspect contractor fraud, are asked to contact the Oklahoma Attorney General's Consumer Protection Unit at 1-405-521-2029 or online at oag.state.ok.us.

Those who suspect anyone of committing fraudulent activities should contact the FEMA Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721. This includes claims made by a contractor, inspector or someone posing as such. To safeguard against disaster-related fraud, officials recommend the following precautions:

Ask for ID

If someone represents themselves as a federal employee, such as an inspector, but does not produce identification, residents are urged to ask to see it.

A FEMA or U.S. Small Business Administration shirt or jacket is not absolute proof of someone's affiliation with the government. Federal employees carry official photo identification and applicants may receive a visit from more than one inspector or verifier.

Safeguard personal information.

State officials advise that storm victims should not give personal information such as social security and bank account numbers to individuals claiming to be affiliated with the federal government. FEMA inspectors never require that personal identification and bank account information be given.

Under no circumstances are FEMA representatives allowed to accept money. If someone claiming to be a federal employee or federal contractor attempts to collect money for their help, report the person and their vehicle number to the local police department.

FEMA inspectors verify damage, but do not hire or endorse specific contractors to fix homes or recommend repairs.

Use care when

hiring contractors

It is recommended that research on contractors be conducted. Residents may also check with the Better Business Bureau, homebuilders' association or trade council to see if the contracting firm has any unanswered complaints against it. Be suspicious of anyone who offers to increase the amount of your disaster damage assessment.

Ask for proof

of insurance

If a contractor is uninsured, a property owner may be liable for accidents. State officials asvise that property owners be sure that the contractor has disability and workers' compensation insurance.

Get it in writing

Ask for a written estimate and check to make sure it includes all the work expected to be done, as well as taxes and other fees. Be mindful that some contractors charge for an estimate.

Once a decision is made to use a particular contractor, ask for a written contract, including all tasks to be performed as well as associated costs, a timeline and payment schedule and who is responsible for applying for necessary permits and licenses. Never sign a blank contract.

Ask for a written

guarantee

A written guarantee should state what is guaranteed, who is responsible and how long the guarantee is valid.

Do not pay in advance

Do not make advance payment in cash. Pay by check in order to keep a record and avoid double charges.