When it comes to the different forms of fraud that target consumers, it might seem like we’re all in the same boat. But the reality is that scammers know their audiences and they know how to approach potential victims. That’s why consumers in different states have to be extra-cautious about specific types of fraud that only apply to their area.

Right now, the California Department of Insurance is warning citizens about scams that affect their state, specifically scams that involve insurance adjustors, contractors, and other people who would have a stake in the areas affected by wildfires. While any state can be impacted by natural disasters, the propensity for wildfires that arises in California makes the work of committing fraud and scams somewhat easier for the criminal.

One of the reasons the state has cited for this is the isolated geographic nature of wildfires. While the damage is severe and the loss of property is astounding, the area is much less widespread than that of a hurricane, earthquake, or series of tornadoes, for example. The damage zone is also easy to map out, giving scammers plenty of time to assemble the tricks of their trade and target unsuspecting, vulnerable consumers.

As with other natural disasters, fraud attempts can rise in the days before and after the event. Whether it’s phony charities soliciting relief donations or false insurance adjustors tricking people out of their claims, there is no limit to the depth of the pit that these unscrupulous criminals climb out of to cause harm.

There are some ways you can protect yourself from fraud in the event of any natural disaster, though. Taking a lesson from California’s warnings to impacted families, there are some important points to remember:

  1. Vet your sources – If anyone approaches you and offers to file a claim, process an estimate, or any other service related to helping you recover from the event, be careful. While there will immediately be qualified, legitimate support personnel on the ground as soon as it’s safe, there will also be scammers looking to steal from you.
  2. The harder you’re hit, the more lucrative you become – You’d think that scammers wouldn’t target people who’ve lost everything—after all, what’s left to steal—but the opposite may be true. Just watching the news footage of the damage can tell a scammer roughly how much money you’ll be trying to claim, making you a very worthwhile target.
  3. Beggars can be choosers – If someone approaches and claims to be a licensed insurance adjustor, don’t just take his word for it. Ask to see his credentials and seek out a phone number to verify that he is who he says he is. Don’t simply work with someone who shows up on the scene out of gratitude that something is finally being done to help your situation.
  4. Only go with a professional – There’s a whole world of fraud surrounding insurance claims, and sometimes even reputable adjustors and contractors will offer to do something that’s not quite on the right side of the law. That willingness to “bend” the rules in your favor should set off alarm bells about this person’s moral compass, and the possibility that you’ll be taken for a ride.
  5. The claim is only half that battle – Once you’ve filed a claim with your insurance company, you’re not out of the woods where fraud is concerned. There are countless stories of contractors who took the money and never did the work, who charged for high-priced materials and then used sub-par items, and worse. There are also plenty of scammers who will target you in unrelated ways once.

As always, anyone who believes their identity has been stolen or their personal data has been compromised is invited to connect with the ITRC through our 24-hour toll-free call center at (888) 400-5530, the IDTheftCenter.org website, or the new IDTheftHelp app for iOS and Android.