Federal Trade Commission warns of scams targeting people impacted by Maui wildfires

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Monday, August 14, 2023
Death toll from Maui wildfire climbs to 96
There have been 96 confirmed deaths from the fire, and there's still people unaccounted for as search teams with cadaver dogs look for remains in decimated neighborhoods.

LAHAINA, Hawaii (KABC) -- Authorities are warning those impacted by the devastating wildfires on Maui to keep an eye out for any scams as they work to rebuild their homes and businesses on the island.

The Federal Trade Commission on its website said: "Nobody knows how long it will take to recover from the destruction, but we do know it won't be long before scammers start trying to cash in."

The agency outlined some common scams that often happen after a disaster strikes, and ways to avoid falling victim to them.

The FTC says you should be skeptical of anyone promising immediate clean-up repairs, especially if they demand payment up front at a high cost. Make sure to verify information given to you by someone who says they're a contractor, including asking for licenses or proof of insurance.

The agency says it's also important to know that if someone wants money to help you qualify for FEMA funds, it's a scam. FEMA does not charge for application fees.

Scammers might also ask for outrageous amounts of money for a rental. According to the FTC, you should steer clear if anyone asks for a security deposit or rent before you've met or signed a lease.

If you're not directly impacted by the wildfires, but you want to help, here are some things to keep in mind:

According to the FTC, there are some telltale signs that an organization soliciting donations isn't legitimate. In general, be wary of callers soliciting contributions. While many legitimate organizations do call for donations, make sure you listen carefully to the name of the charity, write it down, and then research it before pledging a contribution, the FTC said.

Don't let anyone rush you into donating on the phone on the spot; take time to do the proper research. Never donate with a wire transfer or gift card, which is difficult to track if something goes awry. Also, if an organization insists on a donation using cryptocurrency, another hard-to-track form of payment, that should set off alarm bells. Avoid sending funds from payment apps like Venmo or Zelle. Those apps should only be used to send money to people you know, since it's difficult to recoup funds once someone receives them.

You can report charity scams directly to the FTC or your state charity regulator.

CNNWire contributed to this report.