(LAHAINA, Hawaii) — As Maui residents begin a long mourning and recovery process following deadly fires that have ravaged their neighborhoods, local officials say outsiders are attempting to take advantage of the tragedy by attempting to purchase damaged home sites from locals who have lost everything.
Officials expressed concern that residents are being approached about selling residential sites “by people posing as real estate agents who may have ill intent.”
The U.S. Attorney for Hawaii Clare Connors issued an advisory today warning the public to be wary of possible charity scams in the wake of the Maui wildfires.
“As the devastation of our communities on Maui and Hawaii Island continues to unfold, local and national organizations have created ways for volunteers to assist as well as to provide donations of food, money and other resources,” Connors said in a statement.
“While such efforts provide critical aid, we know that during periods of tremendous need like this, criminals do not hesitate to take advantage of the challenging times to commit fraud and other crimes.”
She added that victims are frequently victimized by property theft of businesses and residences abandoned in the wake of such a disaster.
Hawaii Gov. Josh Green said Monday he had reached out to the attorney general “to explore options to do a moratorium on any sales of properties that have been damaged or destroyed.”
“Moreover, I would caution people that it’s going to be a very long time, before any growth, or housing can be built,” Green said.
“You would be pretty poorly informed if you try to steal land from our people and then build here.”
Thousands of Maui residents have been displaced by the deadly wildfires, with roughly 86% of destroyed structures marked as residential, according to the Pacific Disaster Center.
This comes amid what is one of the worst housing crises in America, as the state has the highest housing costs in the nation, according to the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.
The research organization found that a household earning the state median income can no longer afford the state’s median-priced condominium, let alone a single-family home.
Similarly, after the 2017 Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, survivors were warned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) about con artists who might target them.
In the years following the tragedy, the Wall Street Journal reported that “opportunistic investors snapped up distressed properties in Puerto Rico. Momentum in the housing market was building when COVID hit, and the luxury sector just exploded,” a concern that Hawaiian residents expressed may happen to their island as well.
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