CSLB & CDI Urge Southern California Wildfire Victims to Beware of Wildfire Disaster Scams, especially Unlicensed Contracting
Anyone caught contracting without a state license in disaster areas could face felony charge
SACRAMENTO - The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) and California Department of Insurance (CDI) are reaching out to the survivors of this month's southland wildfires to urge them to only hire California-licensed contractors for either repairs or to rebuild their homes or businesses. CSLB is also warning unlicensed contractors that if they're caught trying to contract without a license in any of the disaster areas they could face a felony charge.
CSLB, along with partners including CDI and District Attorney's Offices in all the affected counties are already aggressively looking for those trying to take advantage of fire victims. This week, teams from partner agencies are sweeping through both Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, posting dozens of warning signs and giving educational materials to fire survivors (VIDEO). Sweep operations and outreach have also been conducted in San Diego County and are being planned for Santa Barbara County. Undercover enforcement operations, where CSLB investigators pose as fire survivors to target suspected unlicensed contractors, will be conducted in all the fire areas, as needed. In addition, CSLB and CDI staff have joined representatives from other state and local agencies at a Local Assistance Center that will be open through this Saturday (December 23) in Ventura County, and will be represented at a one-day Local Assistance Center scheduled to open tomorrow (December 22) in Santa Barbara County.
"As we've seen with wildfires this fall in both Northern and Southern California, natural disasters bring out the very best in many, with neighbors helping neighbors, friends helping friends, and strangers helping strangers," said CSLB Registrar David Fogt. "Unfortunately, it's likely to also bring out the worst in some, those who only care about how they can take advantage of the situation and make these vulnerable home and business owners victims a second time. So now, more than ever, consumers need to be cautious about hiring reputable people to repair or rebuild their property."
"Our law enforcement teams are working in the burn zones throughout the state to protect fire survivors from scam artists targeting them," said Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.
A CSLB-issued state license is required for any construction job of $500 or more (labor and/or materials).
Punishment for a felony charge of contracting without a license in a disaster area may include up to 16 months in state prison, and a fine of up to $10,000 (Business & Professions Code 7028.16). Misdemeanor charges also are possible. Misdemeanor charges carry up to $5,000 in penalties and/or up to 90 days in county jail. Subsequent convictions carry even stronger penalties, including a mandatory 90 days in jail.
A Disaster Help Center section on CSLB's website (LINK) provides helpful publications in English, Spanish, and other languages that can be ordered or downloaded. These include, "After a Disaster, Don't Get Scammed" and "What You Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor." CSLB's "Rebuilding After a Natural Disaster" video and podcast also are available. In addition, CSLB's Disaster Hotline, 800-962-1125, is staffed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. By the first of the year, CSLB expects to launch a new "Find My Licensed Contractor" website feature that will allow consumers to create a list of licensed contractors by classification in a specific geographic area. Insurance-related materials are available on CDI's website (www.insurance.ca.gov).
CSLB urges everyone to follow these guidelines before 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 CheckTheLicenseFirst.com
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. CSLB licenses and regulates almost 290,000 contractors in California, and is regarded as one of the leading consumer protection agencies in the United States. In fiscal year 2016-17, CSLB helped recover just over $47 million in ordered restitution for consumers.
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