California residents warned of earthquake scams after recent temblors

After two major earthquakes within two days of each other last week in Southern California, authorities are warning that scammers may be trying to take advantage of residents' renewed anxiety.

The 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck at 8:19 p.m. Friday was the largest one in Southern California in nearly 20 years and was centered 11 miles from Ridgecrest, the same area of the desert where a 6.4-magnitude temblor hit Thursday.

Those large quakes were followed by thousands of smaller aftershocks. The U.S. Geological Survey said the aftershocks will taper off, and the probability of another large quake — magnitude 4 or higher — also will decrease. But officials in Orange County have warned someone has been hyping the opposite, calling residents and claiming an even larger quake was on the horizon to get them out of their homes.

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The Orange County Sheriff’s Department said that on Sunday night, four residents of Aliso Viejo reported they received a phone call saying there would be an 8.4 magnitude earthquake and urging them to evacuate their homes immediately.

Crews work on repairing a section of highway 178 in the aftermath of an earthquake Sunday, July 7, 2019, near Trona, Calif.

Crews work on repairing a section of highway 178 in the aftermath of an earthquake Sunday, July 7, 2019, near Trona, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

"Dispatchers provided the callers with information that Orange County does not have an alert system that would contact them prior to an earthquake, and that it may have been a scam,” the sheriff's office said in a statement to FOX11.

The city of Aliso Viejo subsequently put out a warning on Facebook, warning of the scam to get residents to evacuate their homes in an attempt to possibly commit burglaries.

"Our City and OCSD - Aliso Viejo Police Services only use certain methods to communicate emergencies other than in person, so please always verify the source first!" the city said.

The sheriff's office said, so far, no one appears to have fallen for the scam and no home burglaries were reported in the city in the days since the quakes.

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Residents of the city, located about 50 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, blasted the scam.

“I think it’s terrible that people are capitalizing on people that are terrified of earthquakes, I personally am not super afraid of them but I know a lot of people that are still so shaken up and I think it’s really sad and unfortunate,” Aliso Viejo resident Debbie Crockett told FOX11. “I think the people that are doing this should be prosecuted it’s horrendous and it has to be stopped.”

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the sheriff’s office in Kern County, where the quakes have been centered, told the Los Angeles Times they had not received any reports of suspicious calls as of Tuesday.

“I think it’s terrible and it’s deplorable,” Ilene Rotstan told FOX11. “It’s a great way to get somebody to be fearful to leave their homes and then to fall prey victim to a robbery.”

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Another earthquake scam was reported in 2015 in Beverly Hills, where a caller claimed to be a city official wanting to inspect the property for earthquake damage, according to the Times.

Crews in Southern California assessed damage to cracked and burned buildings, broken roads, leaking water and gas lines and other infrastructure Saturday after the largest earthquake the region has seen in nearly 20 years jolted an area from Sacramento to Las Vegas to Mexico.

Crews in Southern California assessed damage to cracked and burned buildings, broken roads, leaking water and gas lines and other infrastructure Saturday after the largest earthquake the region has seen in nearly 20 years jolted an area from Sacramento to Las Vegas to Mexico. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Officials have reminded residents that in an emergency, messages will be sent out over the Emergency Alert System on television and AM/FM radio in addition to Wireless Emergency Alerts to cell phones based on their location.

Anyone who believes they have been contacted in a potential scam is urged to contact the sheriff office's non-emergency line at 949-770-6011.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.