California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has activated a disaster fraud task force in Santa Barbara, which includes the California Department of Insurance (CDI) Fraud and Investigation Divisions, the Santa Barbara Police Department, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office, and the California Contractors State License Board. The task force is in the field, working with their agency counterparts in Santa Barbara to stop fraudulent behavior. Poizner said he is trying to prevent fire victims from getting “burned” twice.
The Department of Insurance employs more than 200 sworn peace officers statewide. Their main duties are to protect the public from economic loss and distress by actively investigating and arresting those who commit insurance fraud. The Fraud Division acts as the primary law enforcement agency in the State of California for investigating different types of suspected fraudulent insurance claims. The Investigation Division is responsible for investigating complaints against agents, brokers, public adjusters and other individuals and entities involved in the insurance industry.
“My heart goes out to the families who lost their home and their belongings to these devastating wildfires,” Poizner said. “I’m pleased to see so many insurance companies here today taking care of their customers in the wake of these destructive fires. I will make sure they continue to do so. I want to remind victims that it is vital to proceed with caution when hiring a public adjuster or contractor. Scam artists routinely swoop in to take advantage of victims following disasters like this. I urge anyone who suspects fraudulent activity to call the Department of Insurance immediately.”
Since the wildfires broke out in mid-November, CDI investigators have discovered and deterred individuals planning to conduct meetings for fire survivors that they allegedly claim are “CDI sponsored.” During past catastrophes, meetings like this were held by unlicensed public adjusters attempting to take advantage of fire survivors. CDI investigators have already caught and reprimanded unlicensed public adjusters lurking around the Sylmar Local Assistance Center. Fire survivors should call the CDI at 800-927-HELP to verify whether a meeting is being sponsored by the CDI, or to check the license status of a public adjuster.
The Commissioner urged survivors to be on the lookout for several common types of fraud that occurs after a disaster: price gouging; offers of debris removal; and fraudulent charitable solicitations. It is important that fire survivors keep a diligent lookout for predators playing on the emotions of those stricken by disaster. If fraudulent activity is suspected, please contact the CDI immediately.
Commissioner Poizner has taken the following steps to assist victims in their recovery efforts:
-Visited the Sayre Fire zone and toured the local assistance center, warning fire survivors to be on the lookout for fraud schemes.
-Declared an insurance emergency to cut through the red tape and allow insurance companies to use out of state adjusters to more quickly process the sudden influx in fire claims, and help get fire survivors paid as soon as possible. Since he issued his declaration, more than 300 additional adjusters have registered to assist Southern California fire victims.
-Dispatched consumer information experts to local assistance centers in Sylmar and Anaheim to address insurance questions and concerns for Sayre and Freeway Fire victims.
-Sent CDI fraud investigators to Southern California fire zones to conduct outreach throughout the region and advise fire survivors on how to avoid scam artists who routinely target disaster zones.
CDI investigators and staff have worked collaboratively with CAL FIRE and other local and state entities to assess and address the needs of fire survivors.
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