Insurance commissioner warns wildfire survivors of scam artists and unlicensed contractors
News: 2018 Press Release
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Thousands of wildfire survivors face a long road recovering from the devastating fires that have destroyed or damaged at least a thousand homes in northern California. Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones urges wildfire survivors to be aware about the dangers of hiring unlicensed contractors as they begin the recovery process and to be on the lookout for scam artists trolling the area.
"A wildfire leaves more than burned homes and uprooted lives in its wake," said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. "These catastrophes also can blow in fly-by-night unlicensed contractors and door-to-door scam artists eager to capitalize on the misfortunes of innocent and traumatized wildfire survivors."
The most common fraud schemes that occur in the aftermath of a disaster generally involve price gouging, offers of debris removal, and fraudulent charitable solicitations. Because property loss from a disaster can be so traumatic, victims of disaster can become easy targets for fraud. It is important to keep a sharp lookout for people who try to play on the emotions of those stricken by disaster. Public adjusters are prohibited from soliciting business until seven days have elapsed since the conclusion of a disaster unless the public adjuster is contacted directly by the insureds or the insured's representative.
Consumers that have any difficulty with their insurer or concerns about a potential scam artist are urged to contact the Department of Insurance's Consumer Hotline at 800-927-4357.
Tips from the Contractor's State License Board (CSLB) for hiring a contractor:
- Don't rush into repairs, no matter how badly they're needed;
- Don't hire the first contractor who comes along, or sign over any payment checks from your insurance company;
- Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see their plastic CSLB pocket license and a photo ID;
- Get bids from at least three licensed contractors, and don't necessarily take the lowest bid, especially if it's much lower than other bids;
- Always check the license number on CSLB's website at www.cslb.ca.gov or CheckTheLicenseFirst.com, and contact the business directly if you have any questions;
- Get three references from each bidder, and view their previous work in-person;
- Get your contract in writing;
- In most cases, in a disaster area you have up to seven business days to cancel your contract without penalty;
- Get more tips at www.cslb.ca.gov or CheckTheLicenseFirst.com.
Tips for hiring a public adjuster:
- Consider trying to settle your claim directly with your insurance company before hiring a public adjuster or an attorney. Your insurer provides an adjuster at no charge to you.
- Ask your insurance agent or company representative to help you with your claim and don't be afraid to ask questions.
- If you hire a public adjuster to help you with a claim, make sure they are licensed. You can check their license status by calling our toll-free consumer hotline or checking the department's website.
- Public adjusters usually require a percentage of the claim settlement for their services. Make sure you understand what they charge and the services you are paying for before you sign a contract.
- Public adjusters are not allowed to solicit business or initiate any contact with a policyholder between the hours of 6 P.M. and 8 A.M.
- Top 10 Tips for Wildfire Claimants
- Top 10 Tips to Avoid Scams After the Fires
- Additional resources and information for consumers on wildfires are available from the California Department of Insurance. Download a free home inventory guide from the department website or receive a hardcopy by calling the California Department of Insurance Consumer Hotline at 800-927-4357.
- Additional contact information:
- Federal Emergency Management Agency: 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or www.fema.gov
- Contractors State License Board: 1-800-321-CSLB (2752) or www.cslb.ca.gov
- National Insurance Crime Bureau 1-888-815-9064 or www.nicb.org
Led by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, the California Department of Insurance is the consumer protection agency for the nation's largest insurance marketplace and safeguards all of the state’s consumers by fairly regulating the insurance industry. Under the Commissioner’s direction, the Department uses its authority to protect Californians from insurance rates that are excessive, inadequate, or unfairly discriminatory, oversee insurer solvency to pay claims, set standards for agents and broker licensing, perform market conduct reviews of insurance companies, resolve consumer complaints, and investigate and prosecute insurance fraud. Consumers are urged to call 1-800-927-4357 with any questions or contact us at www.insurance.ca.gov via webform or online chat. Non-media inquiries should be directed to the Consumer Hotline at 800-927-4357. Teletypewriter (TTY), please dial 800-482-4833.