Wildfires are devastating, leaving people without their homes and in potential life-threatening danger. As part of the community, people all around are opening their hearts and wallets to help victims in any way. However, that wave of generosity has also prompted a warning about unscrupulous scammers looking to take advantage of their good will.
Furthermore, people in vulnerable positions – who are panicked and in search of assistance – sometimes fall for any number of scams. It doesn’t help that people running fraudulent schemes often know how to make their efforts appear legitimate.
These are a few of the cons and bad business practices that local and state officials are urging residents to watch out for in the wake of the latest wildfire.
Individual businesses are free to charge whatever they want for goods or services, however, it’s also true that the rules change in the aftermath of emergencies. During those periods, state law prevents companies from increasing their prices more than 10 percent for an essential good or service, unless they can show their own costs have been increased. Water, housing and food should be in the loop for price gouging the most.
The State Bar warns that rules prohibit predatory behavior by lawyers following natural disasters like fires. They’re not supposed to show up at hospitals soliciting clients, for example, or to approach people who might be too distressed or injured to make decisions about hiring an attorney.
Then there are people who simply pose as lawyers.
“In the wake of the fires, there is also the risk of victims being approached in person, by mail, email or other means, by people posing as attorneys. Consumers must carefully check that people offering legal services are legitimate and licensed to provide such services,” the State Bar warning says.
Fake Aid and Charities
Take the time to do some research before making a donation. Anyone who just shows up on your property is worth second-guessing, and if you donate, get a receipt.
Here’s a database of legitimate charities by the California attorney general’s office.
The California attorney general’s office keeps a database of legitimate charities.
Residents should also know that public adjusters are prohibited from soliciting business until seven days have elapsed since the conclusion of a disaster, unless that public adjuster was specifically contacted directly by the insured individual or their representative.
Tips 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 CheckThe
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.
If you’d like more information on the San Fernando Valley or Los Angeles, or to have help looking for your next home, please feel free to reach out! I’m happy to help, no obligation.