SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) — The FBI has launched a task force of federal, state and local agencies in an attempt to stem the growing tide of fraudulent claims being filed in the wake of October’s deadly and devastating wine country wildfires.

Officials said fire victims are discovering when they filed paperwork with the Federal Emergency Management Agency that someone else has fraudulently applied for aid using the address of their burned out home or their personal information.

“It’s kind of the normal process for any natural disaster,” FBI spokesman Prentice Danner said. “Every step of the way, you’re met with people trying to make a buck off folks who are otherwise disenfranchised.”

Danner said the task force will investigate a wide range of fraudulent activities. FEMA claims are only one those activities.

Among the other activities included were: fraud that may arise during debris removal and rebuilding; false claims for soliciting charitable contributions; the creation of fake advertisements for temporary housing and announcements about job opportunities.

The task force will focus on the four North Bay counties most affected by the October firestorm: Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake.

It will be composed of agents of officers from the FBI, FEMA, the U.S. Attorney’s Office; the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General; the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office; the Santa Rosa Police Department; Lake County Sheriff’s Office;
Napa County Sheriff’s Office and Napa County District Attorney’s Office

Officials warned residents not to respond to unsolicited emails or click on email links or attachments. They also asked local residents if they were approached or had fallen victim to any fraudulent scam to contact their local district attorney’s office.

They can also contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud at disaster@leo.gov or at 866-720-5721. The website for the National Center for Disaster Fraud is http://www.justice.gov/diaster-fraud

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