San Diego, California - San Diego County and state investigators on the Wild Fire Task Force are going door-to-door in burned communities Monday to warn residents about criminals who prey on victims of natural disasters.

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

Task force investigators include representatives from the County District Attorney’s Office, the California Department of Insurance, the Contractors State License Board, and the Department of Motor Vehicles. They will hand out informational literature and talk with residents about fraud prevention. The team will also post signs warning unlicensed contractors that operating in a proclaimed state of emergency is a felony.

Dumanis said it is also illegal for business owners  to increase prices of essential goods and services by more than 10 percent during states of emergency. Essential goods and services includes food, emergency cleanup services or supplies, medical supplies, home heating oil, building materials, housing, transportation, and gasoline.

In addition,  it is  a misdemeanor for hotels and motels to increase regular rates, and looting is a felony punishable by three years in prison during a state of emergency.

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

Contractors State License Board Registrar Steve Sands said homeowners should only hire licensed contractors.

“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 Sands.

Another word of caution – beware of debris-clearing scams. Criminals may pose as contractors who take money for the service without doing the work, or they may dump debris onto an nearby property or  park, leaving the homeowner responsible for costs and penalties.

Experts recommend the following when considering repair work:

  • Check license qualifications with the Contractors State License Board. The CSLB web site is www.cslb.ca.gov or 1-800-321-2752.
  • Ask contractors for proof of licensing, such as a pocket license and photo identification.
  • Verify the license number matches the information of the contractor offering to do the service.
  • Beware of scare tactics, odd calls, or unsolicited contacts.
  • Make sure the contractor carries workers’ compensation and liability insurance.
  • Never provide a payment upfront.
  • In the case of debris removal, ask where the debris is being taken.

To report suspicious activity, contact the San Diego District Attorney’s Office Insurance Fraud Hotline at 1-800-315-7672 or visit www.sandiegoda.com.

For further information, contact the California Department of Insurance helpline at 1-800-927-HELP (4357).