Wildfire victims should beware of fraud – NICB

Crooked contractors often prey on disaster victims

Wildfire victims should beware of fraud – NICB

Catastrophe & Flood

By Ryan Smith

California firefighters continue to battle the wildfires that have forced thousands of residents to evacuate their homes. When evacuees do return home, they should be on the lookout for dishonest contractors looking to scam them, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

“Following a disaster, victims are understandably confused and shaken with the damage or possible loss of their homes and belongings,” NICB said. “Sadly, it is at this time crooked contractors arrive and press homeowners into paying out their insurance claim prior to the repairs being completed.”

NICB said that its investigators have repeatedly seen crooked contractors collect payment, then “disappear without completing the work that was promised.”

NICB said that disaster-repair scams typically start off with an unsolicited visit from a contractor. The organization recommended that homeowners consider the following tips before hiring a contractor:

  • Get more than one estimate
  • Get everything in writing, including cost, work to be done, time schedules, guarantees, payment schedules and other expectations
  • Request references and do the research
  • Ask to see the salesperson’s driver’s license and write down the license number and their vehicle’s plate number
  • Beware of out-of-state contractor licenses and out-of-state vehicle registrations, as these may indicate fraudulent contractors
  • Never sign a contract with blank spaces – unacceptable contract terms could be added later
  • Never pay a contractor in full or sign a completion certificate until the work is finished
  • Ensure that reconstruction is up to current code
  • Review and make sure to understand all documents sent to your insurance carrier
  • Never let a contractor pressure you into hiring them
  • Never let a contractor interpret insurance policy language
  • Never let a contractor discourage you from contacting your insurer

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