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Fire Victims Urged To Be Aware Of Scams

Photo caption:

Photo by Susan Murphy

Robert and Lynn Dillon watch nervously as a wildfire burns near their home on Willowgrove Avenue in Santee.

A wildfire task force will fan out across the fire- ravaged North County today and Tuesday to warn homeowners against would-be criminals who prey on victims of natural disasters, the District Attorney's Office said.

The investigators assigned to the task force come from various agencies, including the D.A.'s Office, the California Department of Insurance, the Contractors State License Board and the Department of Motor Vehicles, according to the District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

"We're joining forces to make sure people affected by the fires aren't re-victimized,'' Dumanis said. "The sooner we warn residents about would-be scammers, the less likelihood there is that people will be duped.''

A similar task force was formed after the massive 2003 and 2007 wildfires in San Diego County.

Also today, the FBI put out a warning to non-fire victims to be cautious when making donations to help those who lost homes or businesses in the fires.

"Unfortunately, criminals can exploit these tragedies for their own gain by sending fraudulent emails and creating phony websites designed to solicit contributions,'' the FBI stated.

The agency offered the following tips to avoid donation scams:

-- do not respond to unsolicited email;

-- be skeptical of individuals asking for donations via email or social networking sites;

-- beware of organizations with copycat names similar to but not exactly the same as those with reputable charities, and organizations that use a .com web address instead of a .org;

-- research a charity independently on the Internet rather than click on a unsolicited link; and

-- be wary of anyone who is too aggressive in asking for a donation or asks for cash, a wire transfer or check addressed to an individual rather than an organization.

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