Law enforcement teams fan out across Weed and Oakhurst to protect wildfire victims
News: 2014 Press Release
SACRAMENTO, Calif. - In the wake of devastating wildfires that forced the evacuation of thousands of California residents and left hundreds homeless, detectives and investigators from the Department of Insurance and the Contractors State License Board spent this week in burn areas working to protect residents from scam artists and unscrupulous businesses that target disaster victims.
"Unfortunately, disasters can bring out the worst in some people," said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. "Vulnerable homeowners are often targeted by unscrupulous contractors and vendors in disasters such as wildfires. Our enforcement team is focused on educating consumers so they do not become victims of scam artists intent on taking advantage of homeowners that have already suffered so much."
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.
Another concern is public adjusters that solicit business from wildfire victims. Public adjusters are prohibited from soliciting contracts from homeowners for seven days following a disaster. In fact, it is a felony for a public adjuster to approach a homeowner for business within that seven-day 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 using cash-pay. California's underground economy is estimated to total into the billions of dollars.
"Illegal activities by businesses participating in the underground economy create a multi-billion dollar drain on our economy and leaves employees and consumers at risk," said Jones. "Businesses that cheat the system also hurt legitimate businesses that play by the rules by creating an unfair and illegal advantage."
By the end of the two-day outreach effort, the teams connected with several hundred residents in both communities and sent a strong deterrent message to those that might target wildfire victims.
If residents suspect they have been approached by a scam artist or need assistance with their insurance claim, contact the department's consumer services team at 800-927-4357.
- California Department of Insurance staff will be present at the Local Assistance Center scheduled to open Tuesday in the Theater at the College of the Siskiyous, 800 College Avenue, Weed, CA.
- Photos from Boles Fire and Courtney Fire of CDI, consumers, and fraud prevention outreach -Weed, CA.
- An important tip for residents is that many homeowner insurance policies cover additional living expenses during natural disasters. This permits homeowners to maintain their standard of living by covering increased living expenses incurred as a result of damage caused by the fire or mandatory evacuation. The coverage typically includes food and housing costs, furniture rental, relocation and storage, and extra transportation expenses. Policy provisions, including deductibles, vary by company. Consumers should check with their insurer regarding any limitations that may apply to the coverage.
- The Department of Insurance consumer services team fields more than 170,000 calls annually from consumers needing assistance with claims and coverage denials. The team has succeeded in recovering tens of millions of dollars for consumers.
- 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 between 15-20 percent of the total claim settlement. Consumers may hire a public adjuster without a waiting period. Public adjusters are prohibited from soliciting work from homeowners within the seven-day waiting period.
- Don't forget to make copies of insurance policies, important papers and a photo or video inventory of your possessions. An inventory can be completed quickly and easily on your smart phone and safely stored in the Cloud.
- Find quick and easy tips for home hardening to help keep your home from becoming fuel for a wildfire.
- Additional tips and information for consumers about what to do before, during, and after a wildfire are available from the California Department of Insurance. Download a free home inventory guide from the department Website at www.insurance.ca.gov, or receive a hardcopy by calling the California Department of Insurance Consumer Hotline at 800-927-HELP (800-927-4357).
The California Department of Insurance, established in 1868, is the largest consumer protection agency in California. Insurers collect $289 billion in premiums annually in California. Since 2011 the California Department of Insurance received more than 1,000,000 calls from consumers and helped recover over $394 million in claims and premiums. Please visit the Department of Insurance web site at www.insurance.ca.gov. Non-media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800.927.HELP or 213.897.8921. Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDD), please dial 800.482.4833.