Washington wildfires: Avoiding post-disaster fraud

wildfire- su.jpgNatural disasters often bring out the best in people, but they also can be opportunities for fraud. Residents affected by this year’s wildfires in eastern Washington state, as well as those seeking to help them, need to be on watch for the scams and schemes that seem to always follow large natural disasters.

The latest issue of Forest Stewardship Notes, a free e-newsletter published by DNR and WSU Forestry Extension, warns that some offers of help with timber harvest salvage, woodlot restoration, debris removal and other recovery activities may not be on the up-and-up.

“There is no licensing requirement for a consulting forester in Washington and literally anyone can advertise as such,” Steve McConnell, a WSU Extension forestry specialist, and Dean Hellie of Stevens County Conservation District write. They recommend that anyone planning to work with a consulting forester first do some due diligence.

First, make sure the person is legitimate. Find a consulting forester who was in business before the fire hit. Look for one who is a member of the Association of Consulting Foresters and/or the Society of American Foresters—associations with codes of ethics focused on professionalism and adhering to the landowner’s best interests.

Another resource is the Washington Farm Forestry Association, which has chapters throughout the state. Its members have a wealth of practical knowledge about the forest management that works in your area, and what does not.

Debris clearing and charity scams

Another scam that tends to surface following natural disasters involves debris clearing. These scammers often ask for money up-front, and then disappear. If they do pick up your debris, they might just dump it on a neighbor’s property, in a park, or along a roadside, which could leave you responsible for the costs and penalties of cleaning it up legally.

Recently, the FBI issued a warning to nonfire victims, urging caution when making donations to help those who lost homes or businesses in the fires. The agency warns:

  • Do not respond to unsolicited email.
  • Be skeptical of individuals asking for donations via email or social networking sites.
  • Beware of organizations with copycat names similar to but not exactly the same as reputable charities, and organizations that use a .com web address instead of .org.
  • Research a charity independently on the Internet rather than click on an unsolicited link.
  • Avoid cash donations if possible. Pay by debit or credit card or write a check directly to the charity. Do not make checks payable to individuals.
  • Be wary of anyone who seems too aggressive in asking for a donation or asks for cash, a wire transfer or check addressed to an individual rather than an organization.

The Better Business Bureau and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson advise consumers that before donating money research the charity on the Washington Secretary of State’s “Information for Donors” web page or call 1-800-332-4483. Consumers can also search for information on BBB.org or Give.org, a website run by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Read Forest Stewardship Notes, the free e-newsletter about woodland management from DNR and WSU Forestry Extension.

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