In the wake of Northern California wildfires that forced thousands of evacuations and left hundreds of residents homeless, detectives and investigators from the Department of Insurance and Contractors State License Board have spent the week in burn areas warning residents to beware of individuals and businesses that seek to take advantage of disaster victims.
“Unfortunately, disasters can bring out the worst in some people,” Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said in a written statement. “Vulnerable homeowners are often targeted by unscrupulous contractors and vendors in disasters such as wildfires.”
Detectives and investigators walked the streets and attended town hall meetings to educate residents about how to protect themselves from scams and report suspicious activity to authorities.
They caution people to beware of public adjusters who solicit business from wildfire victims. Public adjusters are prohibited from soliciting contracts from homeowners for seven days following a disaster, according to a Department of Insurance news release, which states that it is a felony for a public adjuster to approach a homeowner for business within that seven-day period.
Officials note that public adjusters are independent and represent the homeowner in claim negotiations with the insurance company. They are paid from the claim proceeds paid to the homeowner, usually charging 15 to 20 percent of the total claim settlement. Unsolicited, consumers may hire a public adjuster without a waiting period.
Enforcement officers were also on the lookout for unscrupulous vendors and contractors participating in the underground economy by working without workers’ compensation insurance, proper licenses or accepting cash.
“Illegal activities by businesses participating in the underground economy create a multibillion-dollar drain on our economy and leave employees and consumers at risk,” Jones said. “Businesses that cheat the system also hurt legitimate businesses that play by the rules by creating an unfair and illegal advantage.”
Residents who suspect they have been approached by a scam artist or need assistance with their insurance claim can call the department’s consumer service team at (800) 927-4357.