Scammers try to access financial assistance claiming to live at addresses of wildfire evacuees

Scammers are claiming to live at addresses of B.C. wildfire evacuees to try to get money from the Canadian Red Cross.

Williams Lake mayor among those whose address was compromised

Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb's residence was evacuated during the 2017 B.C. wildfires. He later learned scammers were using his address to try to collect money from the Red Cross. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Scammers have been claiming to live at residences in Williams Lake evacuated during the B.C. wildfires of 2017, in an attempt to receive money from the Canadian Red Cross. 

Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb said his address was one of them.

When he hadn't heard from the Red Cross after filling out his application for funding, he said he called to inquire. 

He was told there was an issue  — more than one claim had been made to his address. He said when the Red Cross representative read him a name that had applied for funding using his address, he confirmed the person did not live at his place.

"The frustrating part is I'm not the only one," Cobb said. "There's two others at least that I know of."

The Canadian Red Cross knows about this scam and others.

"We're obviously aware that during times of emergency, there's situations where individuals may make attempts to take advantage of assistance programs such as ours," said Elysia Dempsey, director for wildfire recovery operations for the Canadian Red Cross. She said when they are made aware of these scams, they report them to local police or the RCMP. 

Dempsey said the Red Cross has systems in place to mitigate the risk of being taken advantage of  but could not speak to specifics out of concern sharing strategies publicly would compromise the way people access assistance. 

The Red Cross will do face-to-face confirmation of identity. In Cobb's case, he went to the local Red Cross office in Williams Lake to fill out forms and confirm his identity and address.

Dempsey said that even if money were to fall into the wrong hands, it wouldn't impact the ability of someone in need to access assistance from the Red Cross. 

"It's very disheartening when people are trying to take advantage of a system that is meant to support those that were impacted," Dempsey said. "That definitely lays heavily with me and I know for the organization as well. It's unfortunate to hear."