DOJ, EPA, state warn fire victims of scams


OREGON — While cleanup and recovery from the Echo Mountain Complex fire in September in the northernmost portion of Lincoln County continued, state and federal officials held a virtual meeting Tuesday morning with statewide media members about the risks posed to disaster victims by scammers.

The wind and fire event the evening of Sept. 7 that ignited the Echo Mountain fire near Otis caused the destruction of nearly 300 residences, and much of the debris and hazardous material cleanup is ongoing where fires erupted in multiple areas throughout the state. 

With that in mind, the Oregon Debris Management Task Force, comprised of members of the state’s Office of Emergency Management, Oregon Department of Transportation and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, hosted an information session with the media to highlight the need for fire victims to be on the lookout for frauds and scams related to wildfire cleanup. 

Debris Management Task Force Public Information Officer Lauren Wirtis began the meeting by describing how after a disaster occurs, scammers often attempt to take advantage of those impacted. And while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state have been working since last month to conduct household hazardous waste removal from fire affected communities, Wirtis said multiple state and federal entities have received reports of imposters posing as EPA workers or certified contractors looking to scam money from disaster victims.

Randy Nattis, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency incident commander, said during the meeting that the EPA, which began cleanup of household hazardous materials in the Otis area last week, never requires soil testing or cash payments prior to cleanup. His agency has heard of multiple efforts to scam fire victims during the last two months.

“Some of these include phony inspections, unnecessary testing and fake cleanup offers by unlicensed and uncertified operators,” Nattis said. He added that unidentified victims have handed over $1,200 in fees to have their soil tested by EPA imposters and that actual EPA workers and certified contractors won’t ask for money up front. 

Ellen Klem, Oregon Department of Justice director of consumer outreach and education, said during the meeting that fire victims should be on the lookout for those attempting to “make a quick buck off the misfortune of others.” The state DOJ warns of scammers who appear to seek charitable donations.

“I’m particularly concerned about individuals who may not know they’ve been victimized (by scammers),” Klem said. “Those are the ones that keep me awake at night.”

The Oregon DOJ lists the following five tips for avoiding giving to fake charities: 

• do research;

• only give to registered charities;

• note whether monetary donations are preferred;

• stay wary of phone, email or door-to-door solicitations;

• remember that not all gifts are tax-deductible. 

Those concerned about a specific solicitation can call DOJ’s Charitable Activities Section at 971-673-1880 or file a complaint at https://bit.ly/3kuqoz7.

DOJ also recommends that those interested in making charitable donations to assist fire victims do so with 2020 Community Rebuilding Fund at https://oregoncf.org/oregon-wildfire-relief-recovery. Under the rebuilding fund banner, several of the state’s registered charities, including local United Way offices, have joined to help areas most heavily impacted by the wind and wildfire events of September.

Other helpful links for fire victims include the EPA’s wildfire response page at https://bit.ly/3pnyBJd; and the state’s wildfire insurance resource page at https://bit.ly/38DwT0f.

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