When disasters occur, there are many steps survivors need to take to get back on the road to recovery. During that time, it is common to find people who want to take advantage of survivors by posing as disaster aid workers, insurance representatives or as relatives trying to help survivors complete their applications or conduct repairs.
The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) advises survivors to be aware of fraud and scams and encourages them to report any suspicious activity or potential fraud from scam artists, identity thieves and other criminals.
Survivors should also be aware that this kind of situation doesn’t happen only as emergency officials are actively responding to help survivors. It can happen anytime.
Residents should be aware of common tactics used by these criminals, such as phone calls claiming to work for emergency responders or posing as insurance agents offering to help start or complete an insurance claim.
Californians have an important role in identifying and reporting suspected fraud abuse. If you suspect someone is engaging in fraudulent or suspicious behavior, report the fraud to the California Office of Attorney General.
The caller might ask for the survivor’s Social Security number and income or banking information. Giving out this type of information can help an unscrupulous person make a false claim for assistance or commit identity theft.
Cal OES encourages survivors and business owners to be vigilant for these common post-disaster fraud practices:
Individuals claiming to represent emergency managers, repair contractors, or insurance representatives:
- Beware of requests for information such as name, address, email, phone number, banking or social security information.
- If you receive a call from someone claiming to be an insurance representative, hang up and call them back on their public phone number.
Fake offers of local, federal or private aid:
- Don’t trust someone who asks for your money. Federal and local disaster workers do not solicit or accept money. FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration staff never charge applicants for disaster assistance, inspections or help in filling out applications.
- Don’t believe anyone who promises a disaster grant and asks for large cash deposits or advance payments in full.
Fraudulent repair contractors
- Use licensed contractors backed by reliable references. A licensed contractor is required for any job exceeding $500 in value, including labor and supplies.
- To find licensed contractors check with the Contractors State License Board, which is part of the California Department of Consumer Affairs.
- Read the contract carefully, do not pay more than $1,000 for a down payment, and never pay more than the work that has been done and the supplies that have been delivered.
- Demand that contractors detail the job to be done with guarantees in writing.
Donate responsibly to help victims during a disaster
- Before donating to a charity or cause, verify the story and relationship to the victim.
- Check sources such as CharityNavigator.org or CharityWatch.org to confirm the charity is responsible and transparent.
- Donation sites such as GoFundMe do not guarantee the authenticity to the donation cause. Verify the cause before donating.
Report fraud by filing an online complaint with the California Office of the Attorney General’s Public Inquiry Unit at www.oag.ca.gov/report or via their mailing address at:
Office of the Attorney General
Public Inquiry Unit
P.O. Box 944255
Sacramento, CA 94244-2550
If you have questions, contact the Public Inquiry Unit at 916-210-6276, but complaints must be submitted via the online complaint form or via mail.