OAKLAND, Calif. (BCN) - State and federal officials are warning victims of the wildfires in the North Bay to be cautious of scams and fraudulent phone calls as they begin to recover from the fires.
In a statement issued Friday by the governor's Office of Emergency Services and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, officials urged California residents to watch for and report any suspicious activity or potential fraud by scam artists, identity thieves and other criminals who may try to prey on survivors of this month's wildfires.
Residents are urged to be aware of fake offers of state and federal aid, and to be especially careful when giving out sensitive information such as social security numbers or bank account numbers.
Residents are also urged to be careful of phony housing inspectors claiming to represent the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the U.S. Small Business Administration. Officials suggest residents ask to see an inspector's identification badge.
To avoid fraudulent building contractors, residents should be sure to use licensed local contractors backed by reliable references. They should also demand that contractors carry general liability insurance and worker's compensation insurance, state and federal officials said.
Finally, state and federal officials are warning of fake pleas for post-disaster donations. Solicitations for disaster aid may arrive by phone, email, letter or in-person visits.
Before donating money, residents should ask for the charity's exact name, address, phone number and website, then contact the charity directly and confirm that the person asking for funds is an employee or volunteer.
Residents are also urged not to pay with cash and to also request a receipt with the charity's name and contact information.
Anyone with knowledge of fraud or abuse can call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or report it to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.