Team 10 tours disaster area with state agencies looking for fraudsters

SAN DIEGO - Team 10 was in Carlsbad with investigators Monday as they looked for people preying on disaster victims.

Agents went door to door, questioning homeowners about who canvassed the neighborhoods the day after the Poinsettia Fire.

According to a news release, investigators from the county District Attorney's Office, the California Department of Insurance, the Contractors State License Board and the Department of Motor Vehicles will disseminate literature and speak with residents about fraud prevention. They will also post signs warning unlicensed contractors that operating in a declared state of emergency area is a felony.

"We're joining forces to make sure people affected by the fires aren't re-victimized," San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said. "The sooner we warn residents about would-be-scammers, the less likelihood there is that people will be duped."

During states of emergency, it is illegal for businesses to increase prices of essential goods and services by more than 10 percent. That applies to food, goods or services used for emergency cleanup, medical supplies, home heating oil, building materials, housing, transportation and gasoline. In addition, it is a misdemeanor for a hotel or motel to increase regular rates.

Looting during states of emergency automatically becomes a felony, which can be punishable by three years in prison.

"Families should be extremely cautious if approached by aggressive agents, adjusters or contractors after a disaster," said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones. "While the majority of businesses are honest and have good intentions, unfortunately, there are always bad actors waiting to take advantage of disaster victims."

Working as an unlicensed contractor during a state of emergency is a felony. Anyone considering repair work should ask for proof of licensing, such as a pocket license and a second photo ID. You should always verify that the license number matches the contractor you are dealing with and beware of scare tactics, odd calls or unsolicited contacts. Make sure the contractor carries workers' compensation and liability insurance.

"Take the time to protect yourself against con artists who will take your money and run or incompetent contractors who will perform shoddy work," said Contractors State License Board Registrar Steve Sands. "Hire only licensed contractors and check their qualifications with the CSLB."

In the aftermath of natural disasters, debris-clearing scams often surface. Do not provide payment upfront and be sure to ask where the debris is being taken. Scammers often ask for money up front and then disappear. Sometimes they dump debris on a neighbor's property or park, which may cause you to be responsible for the costs and penalties.

The district attorney's office provided the following telephone numbers and email addresses to assist you in obtaining further information or reporting suspicious activities:

San Diego District Attorney's Office
Insurance Fraud Hotline
330 West Broadway, Suite 700
San Diego, CA 92101
Telephone 1-800-315-7672

California Department of Insurance
10021 Willow Creek Road, #100
San Diego, CA 92131
Helpline 1-800-927-HELP (4357)

Contractors State License Board
9246 Lightwave Avenue, Suite 130
San Diego, CA 92123

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