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Safe & Secure: Warning of 'thieves who attempt to profit from Thomas Fire'

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Law enforcement is warning those in the fire areas to be on the lookout for criminals attempting to profit from the Thomas Fire.

There have already been reports of looting, but they also warned to watch out for price gougers and fraudulent contractors and charitable organizations.

As flames forced residents from their homes in Santa Barbara County, at least one person was there to prey on the weak.

"We did actually arrest a looter attempting to steal some property out of someone's garage. That person has now been evacuated to the main jail," Santa Barbara County Undersheriff Bernard Melekian said.

Unfortunately, he's not the first and won't be the last to take advantage of people who are down and out. Law enforcement wants those in the fire area to watch out for price gouging. "And the fact that no business, once an emergency is declared, can raise prices more than 10 percent," Melekian said.

This statute applies to hotels/motels, consumer food items, goods or services used for emergency cleanup, emergency supplies, medical supplies, home heating oil, contractor's services, building materials, housing, transportation, freight, storage services, gasoline, and other motor fuels.

"If any predator business criminally misuses this disaster for their own benefit, we will prosecute them to the full extent of the law," District Attorney Joyce Dudley wrote in a statement, adding price gouging is punishable one year in county jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

Dudley also warned against fraudulent contractors. Undersheriff Melekian explained, "people who may come into an area that is in the warning area or when we get into repopulation efforts may come to you and talk to you about offering to make repairs."

And lastly, for those who want to help law enforcement warned to only give money to reputable organizations to avoid fraudulent charities.

"My advice is that you only give money to charities and relief organizations with which you are familiar and whose proper contact information can be verified," D.A. Dudley said.

The District Attorney's office has yet to have any reports of scams related to the Thomas Fire.

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