Beware of Disaster-Related Fraud and Scam Artists

As California residents work to recover from recent wildfires, they should be on guard for and report suspicious activity of potential fraud, scam artists and other criminals who prey on survivors.

If you suspect someone is perpetrating fraud, call the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or your local police department.

Listed are some examples of common post-disaster fraud practices and important information to help avoid becoming a victim:

Fraudulent phone calls or home visits

  • Individuals falsely claiming to be from FEMA or a government agency who do not have proper photo identification.
  • Survivors will be asked to provide their Social Security number and banking information only when registering for FEMA assistance. They should never give this information to contractors.
  • Ask to see the inspector’s identification badge. A FEMA or U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) shirt or jacket is not proof of someone’s affiliation with the government. Federal employees and contractors carry official photo identification.
  • FEMA inspectors will already have applicants’ nine digit registration number.
  • FEMA inspectors will never require banking or other personal information.
  • If in doubt, survivors should not give out any information.

Fake offers of federal aid

  • A phone or in-person solicitor promises to speed up the insurance, disaster assistance or building-permit process for a fee. Other scam artists promise a disaster grant and ask for large cash deposits or advance payments in full.
  • Federal workers do not solicit or accept money.
  • FEMA and SBA staffers will never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections or for assisting individuals fill out applications.

Fraudulent building contractors

  • Disasters also attract fraudulent contractors who offer to begin work immediately and request a cash advance payment. When hiring a contractor:
  • Residents should only use licensed local contractors who are backed by reliable references and get written estimates from at least three contractors that include the cost of labor and materials.
  • Residents should insist that contractors carry general liability insurance and workers’ compensation. If they aren’t insured, you may be liable for accidents that occur on your property.
  • Don’t pay more than half the costs of repairs upfront.

Dishonest pleas for post-disaster donations

  • Dishonest solicitors may play on the emotions of disaster survivors. These solicitations may come by phone, email, letter or face-to-face.
  • Residents should verify legitimate solicitations by asking for the charity’s exact name, street address, phone number and website address, then phone the charity directly and confirm that the person asking for funds is an employee or volunteer.
  • Residents should not pay donations with cash.
  • Residents should request a receipt with the charity’s name, street address, and phone number.

FEMA and Cal OES have been providing essential emergency support to affected communities since the Emergency Declaration on July 28, 2018. For more information,

visit www.fema.gov/disaster/4382 and WildfireRecovery.org and follow www.twitter.com/femaregion9, Cal OES www.twitter.com/Cal_OES.

 

Jonathan Gudel

Jonathan Gudel is a Public Information Officer for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES). Since joining Cal OES, he has assisted in the response and recovery efforts of the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak, the state's historic drought, the Oroville Dam Emergency Spillway Incident, unprecedented winter storms in 2017, the October (Sonoma County) and December (Santa Barbara County) 2017 wildfires, and statewide wildfire siege in 2018 . Previously, he worked in the newspaper industry for 12 years.

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