Natural disasters, such as the dozens of wildfires that have forced hundreds of thousands of people in California to flee their homes bring out the best in people who want to donate to charities to help the victims. Unfortunately natural disasters also bring out the worst in scammers who are quick to take advantage of the generosity of people by contacting them posing as charities, but instead of collecting funds to help the victims of the storms, these scam artists steal the money for themselves under false pretenses. Charities are not subject to the federal Do Not Call List so even if you are enrolled in the Do Not Call List, legitimate charities are able to contact you. The problem is that whenever you are contacted on the phone, you can never be sure as to who is really calling you so you may be contacted either by a phony charity or a scammer posing as a legitimate charity. Similarly, when you are solicited for a charitable contribution by email or text message you cannot be sure as to whether the person contacting you is legitimate or not.

Other scams that will occur involve identity thieves posing as Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) employees and insurance company representatives in order to take personal information from storm victims to turn them into victims of identity theft. There will also be phony contractors looking to steal the money of victims for repair work that never gets done or is done in a shoddy fashion.

TIPS

Never provide credit card information over the phone to anyone whom you have not called or in response to an email or text message. Before you give to any charity, you may wish to check out the charity with www.charitynavigator.org where you can learn whether or not the charity itself is a scam. You can also see how much of the money that the charity collects actually goes toward its charitable purposes and how much it uses for fund raising and administrative costs.  Charity Navigator has a listing of specific charities that it has vetted that are good choices for anyone wishing to help the victims of the California wildfires.  Among those charities is the 2019 California Wildfires Recovery Fund established by the highly rated Center for Disaster Philanthropy.  Here is a link to California Wildfire charities approved by Charity Navigator. https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=7574

Never give out personal information to anyone of whom you are not absolutely positive as to their identity. Federal and state agencies  working in disaster relief will not ask for fees in order to be eligible for assistance and neither will insurance companies. Also beware of people who pass themselves off as insurance adjusters promising to get you more money. Insurance adjusters are licensed in each state and you should check out any person claiming to be an adjuster before hiring them. Make sure they are who they say they are and that there are not numerous complaints against them. Never give personal information to anyone passing themselves off as a FEMA or other emergency aid agency employee regardless of how good their identification card looks. ID cards can be forged. Rather, call FEMA or any other agency that they purport to represent and confirm whether or not they are legitimate. The same goes for a representative of your insurance agency. Call your insurance company to confirm the identity of the person purporting to represent the insurance company.

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