There are reports of looters seeking to prey on those who have lost homes in the bushfires in East Gippsland.
The Advertiser was told that looters were in the Sarsfield area the morning following the fires.
It’s understood those looters aren’t visitors to the area, but unsavory characters who reside within the community.
“Unfortunately, we have some despicable people living in the local area,” a Sarsfield resident said last week.
The resident, whose house escaped the fires, said when she approached a couple of cars in her neighbour’s property, which was destroyed by fire, they took off.
Sergeant Prad Pai, of Bairnsdale Police, said police were aware of a number of social media posts circulating in relation to alleged looting at properties in East Gippsland.
Sgt Pai said extra police units are now patrolling fire affected areas overnight, checking every vehicle to ensure they had a purpose for being in the area.
“We’ve had four extra units patrolling over the past three nights in the Sarsfield, Nicholson and Bruthen areas,” Sgt Pai said. People are also being warned to be wary of scammers going door-to-door collecting for bushfire victims, although Sgt Pai said police had not yet received any reports of fraudulent behaviour.
East Gippsland Mayor, Cr John White, said he had been made aware of looters in the area.
“It’s absolutely disgusting,” Cr White said.
“I’ve been getting phone calls about suspicious people in the fire affected areas.
“Apparently there were people door knocking on Saturday night in Bairnsdale when people had been evacuated to see if anyone was at home. It’s very disappointing.”
Cr White said a young volunteer who had been assisting at the relief centre in Lucknow had his backpack stolen while cleaning the toilets.
The mayor said council had been made aware of several reports of theft and looting and passed them onto police.
Police and Emergency Services Minister, Lisa Neville, confirmed her department had heard reports of fake charities and scams operating in the area for bushfire victims.
Minister Neville condemned the fake charities as “the lowest of the low in terms of behavior”.
Ms Neville said fraudsters were ringing around pretending to be bushfire victims or ringing on behalf of bushfire victims in order to fraudulently obtain money from unsuspecting people.
“People who want to take advantage of communities now are the lowest of the low and we’ve got to make sure they don’t get away with these sort of scams,” she said.
“So can I recommend to Victorians, so many generous Victorians who want to give, to look up the Bushfire Appeal.”
Ms Neville said Victoria’s Bushfire Appeal Victoria was the safest way that 100 per cent of money will go directly back to the affected families.
If in doubt about anyone collecting for bushfire victims, ask to see their official identification.
If you believe you are a victim, please report the matter to police via the Police Assistance Line on 131 444.