Multiple scams arise after Fort McMurray wildfires
'These people have been through so much and then to have them scammed... is shameful and it is disgusting'
Fraudsters are attempting to scam kind-hearted Albertans out of donations, evacuees out of funds to rebuild their home and the government out of disaster funds, officials warn.
Throughout the battle with the wildfire known as "the beast" that did billions of dollars of damage to the town of Fort McMurray, Albertans have displayed their kindness with donations and offers of support.
But some people are trying to take advantage of that generosity, warns Ron Mycholuk of the central and northern Alberta Better Business Bureau.
The most prevalent scams are fake charities collecting online or door-to-door, he said.
If people are really pressuring you to give money right there on the spot... take a step back.- Ron Mycholuk
Donors should be wary if someone at the door becomes pushy about donations, Mycholuk said.
"If people are really pressuring you to give money right there on the spot and not give you a chance to think or do some research, take a step back," he said.
People should watch for fraudulent Go Fund Me pages or fake websites made to mimic disaster relief programs, he added.
"It's really easy to take advantage of web hosting software and put up a website that looks really legitimate," said Mycholuk.
"It only has to scam people for a really short period of time to get a lot of money, especially right now when people are so eager to give."
Mycholuk said it's best to avoid any website that doesn't have a direct link to donate. It's better to donate directly to the Red Cross and avoid any intermediary website, he said.
Beware of fake contractors
When evacuees finally get to return home, Mycholuk said they should be on the lookout for people he calls "storm chasers" — fake contractors who will show up when the rebuilding process starts.
These people will offer repairs at a cheaper and quicker pace than what is actually possible and ask for the money up front.
Once paid, they will either disappear immediately or do quick and shoddy work.
"Then when you want them to redo it properly, you'll never find them again," said Mycholuk. "They've scammed 10, 15, 20 families and then disappeared."
These people have been through so much and then to have them scammed... is shameful and it is disgusting.- Ron Mycholuk
The best way to avoid these scammers is to only work with well-known businesses or people with good, public track records, he said.
Mycholuk notes that rebuilding is a long and arduous process and if something sounds too good to be true, it often is.
"These people have been through so much and then to have them scammed when they are just trying to start rebuilding their lives is shameful and it is disgusting," said Mycholuk.
Scamming the government
It's not just the evacuees who need to look out for people looking to profit from the wildfire's path of destruction.
On Monday, a woman was charged after she tried to use photocopied documents to access money set aside for evacuees. On Thursday, a 29-year-old man was charged in Calgary for a similar offence.
Minister of Municipal Affairs Danielle Larivee said there have been attempts by people to access the province's debit cards but they are few and far between.
So far, there has been 10 arrests of people fraudulently attempting to access the debit cards made in the province and in only two cases charges have been laid.
Larivee added that this represents .05 per cent of the more than 38,000 cards that have already been issued.
In order to get the cards, evacuees need to prove that they were forced out of their home in the fire zone and haven't been able to return for seven days.
"It's difficult with some people having left key documents behind, so ideally we ask them to present identification documents, proof of residence, those kinds of things," said Larivee.
If an evacuee cannot provide any proof, they are asked to sign a statutory declaration.
Alberta sheriffs are posted at the distribution centres to handle any attempts at fraud.
With files from Radio Active and Scott Stevenson