The recent devastating fire storms in and around Los Angeles
County have reminded everyone about the importance of emergency
preparedness. The District Attorney’s Office would like to remind
you that it is also important to remain vigilant and prepared
after disasters have occurred.
While many people go out of their way to generously assist
disaster victims, some criminals see post-disaster periods as an
opportune time for crime. They prey on disaster victims who are
vulnerable to scams and dishonest business practices.
If you have suffered losses because of a disaster, beware of the
PUBLIC ADJUSTER SCAMS
This scam occurs when a public adjuster (one that does not work
for your insurance company) tells you that your insurance company
will avoid paying the fair value of the claim. He/she tells you he/she will
work for you for a percentage of your claim.
It is wise to contact your insurance company adjuster first and
obtain a written estimate of the damage costs. This estimate will
help you negotiate with contractors. If you disagree with the
insurance company adjuster, you can always hire a public adjuster
for a second estimate.
Always keep in mind that public adjusters need to be licensed.
Their license status can be verified with the Department of
Insurance. If you decide to hire a public adjuster, ask for a
written agreement and make sure you understand all their fees before
One type of collusion scam occurs when an adjuster refers you to
a contractor for a fee. Often, this referral is pre-arranged for
inflated adjustments and results in a monetary kick-back to the
Some con artists represent themselves as professional
intermediaries who can arrange low-interest loans, relief grants,
insurance adjustments, and insurance claims for a fee. Unscrupulous
vendors will often sell sub-standard material to victims.
Following a disaster, some con artists try to collect funds for
non-existent charities. If you are interested in donating to a
charity, only give to organizations you know are reputable. Beware
of fraudulent charities that have similar names to reputable
charities. Whenever you make a donation, ask for written information
and proof that your contribution is tax-deductible. You can check
out charities at the California Attorney General’s Web site:
Realizing that disasters place people in urgent situations,
solicitors often use high-pressure sales tactics to separate victims
from their money. Do not be hurried or intimidated by solicitors. If
you choose to purchase products or services from a solicitor, get
all their information and promises in writing.
Fraudulent contractors fall into two categories: those working
without a license and those who have licenses, but fail to perform
the jobs they accept in a capable fashion. In either case, these
kinds of contractors do not have sufficient resources, and their
work is often sub-standard or never completed.
When hiring a contractor, keep in mind the following tips:
- Only deal with licensed and insured contractors.
- Don’t hire the first contractor who comes along. Get
recommendations from friends, relatives, neighbors, and
- Take your time signing a contract.
- DO NOT deal with contractors who ask you to pay for the entire
- Be skeptical of contractors who encourage you to spend high
amounts of money on temporary repairs.
- Ask a knowledgeable friend, relative, or attorney to review
the home repair contract before you sign it.
- Ask contractors for references.
- Check with Contractors State License Board to verify the
contractor you are dealing with it licensed.
FAKE DISASTER OFFICIALS
Bogus emergency officials, insurance representatives, and bank
lenders are always a concern following a disaster. These shysters
are very eager to capitalize on your misfortunes and con you into
giving them money or private information.
After loss or damage has occurred, keep the following in mind.
- Beware of identity theft. Do not give any of your personal
information – such as Social Security number, driver’s license
number, or insurance information – to anyone contacting you.
- Always ask for identification and inspect it before letting
anyone into your home.
- Keep a log of names of the people you speak with along with
the dates, times and a summary of pertinent points.
- Contact your insurance company immediately to report your
loss. Follow their instructions. Do not clean up until they
instruct you to do so.
- Take your own photographs documenting damage.
- Do not rush into repairs or rebuilding. Consider all your
alternatives. A good contractor will let you check things out
before you make a decision.
- Contact the U.S. Post Office to make proper arrangements to
stop mail delivery.
The following numbers will help you determine if individuals you
are dealing with are legitimate.
State of California
Contractors State License Board
Disaster Victims ONLY
Department of Insurance
Information for Disaster Victims ONLY
To verify Public Adjuster’s license
T.D.D. (800) 482-4TDD (4733)
For use ONLY by people in designated Federal disaster areas. Be
prepared to give your social security number, describe your losses,
provide financial information, and give directions to the damaged
TTY (800) 462-7585
Better Business Bureau
Local Law Enforcement
In case of emergency DIAL "911"
To report a crime, contact your local law enforcement agency.
You may also call:
District Attorney’s Victim-Witness Assistance Program
District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division