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Wildfire victims experiencing disaster assistance fraud

Alice Fordham
Smoke bellows from a smoldering portion of the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire in northern New Mexico.

Victims of New Mexico's largest fire are now reporting claims of identity theft on disaster assistance applications.

Now, officials are vowing to find and prosecute people who take advantage of the loss of livelihoods and property.

These “disaster” scams come in all shapes and sizes––though, they commonly take the form of identity theft. That happens when false IDs are used to pose as someone who is entitled to federal compensation.

Thomas Clayton is the District Attorney for Mora, Guadalupe, and San Miguel counties.

“Unfortunately, circumstances like we are facing bring out the best in people, but also the worst in people,” Clayton said.

Clayton said he’s been getting lots of phone calls and emails from residents claiming organizations like FEMA have received assistance applications in their name. But, they didn’t fill it out themselves.

One recent case involved someone who received a notice of submitting a disaster relief application for his grandmother, although she passed away several years ago.

The District attorney’s office is currently investigating these claims of fraud. They’re also worried about the looting of homes and businesses as evacuation orders ease in the area.

If you or someone you know may be a victim to identity theft, call FEMA’s fraud hotline at (866) 720-5721 or go through their website. District Attorney Thomas Clayton’s contact information for his offices in San Miguel and Guadalupe Counties are here.    

Bryce Dix is our new local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
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