SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley is warning county residents to be on the lookout for possible scammers looking to make fraudulent claims with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The scams, which were widespread during the northern California wildfires in Napa and Sonoma Counties, involve scammers using stolen personal identifying information to file a fraudulent FEMA application. When those who were actually affected by the disasters attempt to file a FEMA application, they learn a claim has already been filed under their names.
Many people who did not file claims with FEMA then had FEMA-affiliated inspectors arrive at their homes to conduct an inspection. Dudley said she had spoken with FEMA who said they would not send any inspectors unless an application is filed.
Dudley also clarified that all FEMA employees and contractors will have federally-issued photo identification badges. Dudley says if an individual shows up at your home to conduct a FEMA inspection and you have not filed an application for assistance, you should immediately contact law enforcement and report it to the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General at (800) 323-8603 or www.oig.dhs.gov.
If you attempt to file an application for assistance, but find that someone has already filed an application in your name, FEMA requests that you call the FEMA Office of the Chief Security Office at (866) 223-0814 or report at FEMA-OCSO-Tipline@fema.dhs.gov.
Contacting FEMA as soon as possible may prevent payment to the individual responsible for the fraud. You can find more information at www.disasterassistance.gov, www.fema.gov/disaster-fraud, or at the National Center for Disaster Fraud hotline, (866) 720-5721.
FEMA will refer the report to the local FBI office for investigation.
Residents are told to keep an eye out for any form of fraud or crime being committed by someone taking advantage of natural disasters. If you suspect you have been a victim of a crime of this nature, you should contact your local law enforcement agency.