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Feds warn of fire cleanup scams

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Federal prosecutors and the FBI warned people affected by the Mendocino Complex fires to be on the alert for possible fraud in connection with the cleanup of the fires, according to a statement issued Thursday.

Northern California U.S. Attorney Alex Tse said:

“In times of difficulty like the Mendocino Complex fires, many people respond to their community with a spirit of generosity and a willingness to shoulder the difficulty together … Others, however, take advantage of the vulnerability to unjustly enrich themselves.”

Tse and FBI Special Agent John Bennett said local and federal law enforcement agencies have joined in a North Bay Disaster Fraud Task Force, formed last year to combat fraud arising from the North Bay wildfires.

People who suspect fraud can contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud at disaster@leo.gov or at (866) 720-5721.

The telephone line is staffed 24 hours a day. Information can also be faxed to the center at (225) 334-4707. The organization’s website is www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud.

Suspected fraud also can be referred to local and federal law enforcement agencies, they said.

The two officials said examples of disaster fraud could include fake charities claiming to provide relief for victims and individuals submitting false claims for disaster relief.

They urged members of the public to be careful before trusting people purporting to be working on behalf of fire victims, and to be especially cautious before providing personal identifying information.

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