Better Call Behnken: FEMA slow to respond as crooks cash in on Hurricane Irma

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – John Lostumo runs an auto repair shop in St. Petersburg and was thankful to have no damage from Hurricane Irma.  So he was shocked when he received a phone message from FEMA about his claim for disaster assistance.

Lostumo did not make a claim.

“We were in work the day after the storm,” he said.

The FEMA phone call explained that someone used his business phone number to file a claim, and that “the individual or household that applied is eligible for hotel or motel lodging assistance, which will provide one room for every four household members.”

That got Lostumo’s attention.

“I would like to know who is using my number,” he said.

He’s worried about identity theft or that someone is using his information to scam money from FEMA.

“What I’m most concerned about is what if we actually had a claim and then the number would be duplicated, and then what?” Lostumo said.

He called FEMA to find out what happened and had to wait on hold for four hours. He left a message, but nobody returned his call.

“It cost me four hours, and I bill $90 an hour, ask any of customers,” Lostumo said.

FEMA tells Better Call Behnken that officials are well aware of crooks trying to cash in on Hurricane Irma. Usually, they find out when you file a legitimate complaint and learn someone else already filed with your information.

In Lostumo’s case, it’s too early to say for sure what happened. It could be fraud, or a simple clerical error.

But one thing is for sure: FEMA covers individuals, not companies, so Lostumo’s business won’t be impacted.

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