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FBI Warns Of Potential Scams In Aftermath Of San Diego County Fires

Don’t get scammed in the aftermath of this past week’s devastating brush fires that swept across San Diego County. That’s the warning the FBI issued Sunday.

“Following any natural disaster, many people want to contribute to charities to help the victims recover from these disasters. Unfortunately, we know there are crooks out there who will prey on this generosity for the purposes of lining their own pockets,” said Darrell Foxworth, an FBI special agent and spokesman for the San Diego office.

Criminals will send fraudulent emails and create phony websites to solicit contributions, Foxworth said. People will pose as if they’re working for legitimate charities, such as the Red Cross, or pretend to be from a non-existent group, all in the name of collecting money for disaster relief, he said.

The public can report suspicious email solicitations or fraudulent websites to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center — www.ic3.gov — or by calling the FBI at (858) 320-1800.

Home repair and cleanup frauds also are common after natural disasters, Foxworth said.

Nearly 70 homes were destroyed in the San Diego County fires and others were damaged. Businesses were destroyed and damaged, too.

Foxworth said those who experienced such losses in the fires should beware of unscrupulous operators who might try to get them to claim more damages than actually occurred. They also could be at risk from contractors who collect money to repair damaged property but never complete the work.

The FBI and the National Center for Disaster Fraud have a tip line where the public can report such activity.

Tips can be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud at (866) 720-5721. An operator staffs the line 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Emails can be sent to disaster@leo.gov, and information can be faxed to (225) 334-4707.

Charitable Donation Fraud

Follow these guidelines before making a donation:

• Do not respond to unsolicited spam e-mails, including clicking links within those messages because they may contain computer viruses.

• Beware of organizations with copy-cat names similar to, but not exactly the same as, those of reputable charities.

• Verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by using various Internet-based resources that may assist in confirming the group’s existence and its non-profit status.

• To ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes, make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf.

• Do not be pressured into making contributions; reputable charities do not use such tactics.

• Be wary of out-of-state organizations, especially if their only address is a post office box.

• Be aware of whom you are dealing with when providing your personal and financial information. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.

• Avoid cash donations. Pay by credit card or write a check directly to the charity. Do not make checks payable to individuals.

• Legitimate charities do not normally solicit donations via money transfer services. Most legitimate charities websites end in .org rather than .com.

• Be wary of individuals pretending to be representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency collecting a “processing fee” for an emergency loan or other assistance. If you receive a phone call or visit from someone claiming to be a representative of a particular agency, always call the agency to confirm the representative is legitimate.

Home Repair Fraud

The Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency offer the following tips when hiring people to do repairs after a disaster:

• Deal only with licensed and insured contractors.

• Get recommendations and check with the Better Business Bureau and the Home Builders Association to see if complaints exist against a potential contractor.

• Review the contract thoroughly. Get written estimates. Ask someone (friend, family or attorney) to review the contract before signing. Get a second opinion.

• Avoid dealing with contractors who request money up front before a job is completed.

• Be skeptical of a contractor who has you spend a lot of money for temporary repairs.

• Never pay a home contractor or any other vendor in cash. Do not sign over your insurance settlement check. Only pay by credit card or personal check. Be sure not to pay in full upfront.

• Don’t be pressured. Don’t fall for hiring someone who is offering a “one-day-only” special or a discount for hiring him on the spot.

• Beware of disreputable contractors who solicit door to door offering rebuilding of cleaning services after a natural disaster.

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