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11 Call For Action Alert: Watching out for wildfire scams in wake of Marshall Fire

Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 8:38 AM MST
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SUPERIOR, Colo. (KKTV) - Thousands lost everything when a fire tore through two Colorado towns late last month.

Officially the most destructive fire in state history in terms of homes destroyed, the Marshall Fire decimated swaths of Louisville and Superior after igniting on a gusty December morning. As so many try to put the pieces of their lives back together, people across the state have been eager to help.

Unfortunately, scammers are also eager -- eager to take advantage of the tragedy.

“Whenever people’s hopes are at stake, they want to help others, people come out and prey on those hopes, same true with people’s fear, and here we have some combination of both of those and so there will be scammers preying on both victims of the fire, as well as people who want to help the victims,” said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser.

Weiser recently sat down with 11 Call For Action investigator Katie Pelton to discuss what to watch out for so you don’t get taken advantage of during this time. Below is the full Q&A.

KATIE PELTON: I’M CURIOUS, HAS YOUR OFFICE HEARD OF ANY REPORTS OF SCAMS TIED TO THE MARSHALL FIRE YET?

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser: “It is very much an emergent issue so I don’t know that we’ve gotten any yet. Unfortunately, I am very confident we will.

PELTON: WE KNOW SCAMMERS LOVE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OUR GENEROSITY, ESPECIALLY FOLLOWING TRAGEDIES. WHAT SORT OF ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR CONSUMERS?

Weiser: “The most important advice is when you are approached, it could be an email, it could be social media, it could be in person even, please don’t act immediately in the moment. Scammers will always try to get you to act immediately. They will prey on your desire to help or your fear of something bad happening. And if you act immediately, the chances are if you’re scammed, you’re not going to be able to get the money back or the damage will be done. So say to whoever is asking you to help victims of the fire, ‘Can you leave me with some information, can I look at a website?’ And when you see what the charity is, go to a reputable source, like Charity Navigator, and take a look to see if this is a charity is actually viable, credible, doesn’t take all the money for administrative costs. Those are all important things that only happen when you give yourself space to do your homework.”

PELTON: FEMA HAS STEPPED IN TO HELP THE VICTIMS OF THE FIRE. UNFORTUNATELY, WE KNOW SCAMMERS CAN POSE LOOK LIKE FEDERAL OR STATE WORKERS. HOW DO YOU KNOW IF IT’S THE REAL THING? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WARNING SIGNS TO LOOK FOR?

Weiser: “The first thing that will happen is someone will contact you purporting to be from FEMA and they’ll start asking you for information or they’ll start offering to help you if you give them information. There are different ways they’ll try to get something from you. What you need to know is when you get a call from somebody, practice constant vigilance. Never assume, even if your Caller ID says it’s from a local public health department, because that can be spoofed using technology. Instead, what you need to do is ask them for their number, ask them who they’re calling from, and be ready to call back the credible source. Go find out yourself, ‘What’s the number from FEMA’ and call them, so you don’t get taken in by somebody pretending to be somebody they’re not.”

PELTON: A RECENT AARP SURVEY FOUND THAT 38 PERCENT OF ADULTS SAY THEY HAVE RECEIVED A CHARITY REQUEST THAT SEEMED FRAUDULENT. THIS TYPE OF THING HAPPENS A LOT -- I’M SURE YOUR OFFICE HAS DEALT WITH IT MANY TIMES BEFORE FOLLOWING TRAGEDIES AND NATURAL DISASTERS IN OUR STATE?

Weiser: “We have one we hear about a lot. Sometimes they’re calling to say, ‘We’re helping the police, will you support?’ -- and if you do the research, you’ll find out 90 plus percent of the money doesn’t go to police, it goes to the organization itself. And so we’re always telling people, do your homework, know who you’re supporting. There are a range of red flags. One is is the organization mostly supporting administrative costs, not the actual victims. Another red flag is does the organization not have a credible track record, such that it could be a fly-by-night operation. If you do your homework, you’ll figure those things out. Whereas, if you just get taken in in a moment, you’re at risk of giving money to the wrong place.”

PELTON: THANKS FOR JOINING US.

Weiser: “Thanks for getting the word out. It is a credit to us as Coloradans how we pull together. We had wildfires in Grand County last year, now in Boulder County this year, we’re all in this work together and we want to make sure we’re helping the right people.”

You can also call the Colorado Attorney General’s statewide consumer helpline at 800-222-4444. Press option “2″ to speak with an AARP Elderwatch volunteer specialist who can check the charity for you. A link to legitimate groups that are accepting donations and volunteers can be found on Find It.

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