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National Insurance Crime Bureau

As Wildfire Victims Return Home, NICB Urges Caution To Avoid Fraud

DES PLAINES, Ill., August 26, 2020 — Cal Fire personnel continue to battle blazes as hundreds of thousands of acres burn following recent lightning storms causing the evacuation of thousands of Californians. When evacuees return home, they could be faced with the long, somber task of rebuilding their homes and lives – and could be victimized by dishonest contractors looking to make a quick, corrupt buck.

Following a disaster, victims are understandably confused and shaken with the damage or possible loss of their homes and belongings. Sadly, it is at this time crooked contractors arrive and press homeowners into paying out their insurance claim prior to the repairs being completed. Time and again, investigators with the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) have seen these bad actors collect payment, and then disappear without completing the work that was promised.

Typically, these disaster repair scams are unsolicited, beginning with a visit from a contractor who seeks to help victims rebuild. Before hiring any contractor, call your insurance company. There is no need to rush into an agreement with a contractor who solicits your repair work, especially if it was not requested.

NICB suggests you consider these tips before hiring a contractor:

  • Get more than one estimate.
  • Get everything in writing. Cost, work to be done, time schedules, guarantees, payment schedules, and other expectations should be detailed.
  • 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 license plate number.
  • Look out for out-of-state contractor licenses as well as out-of-state vehicle registrations as these may also indicate possible fraudulent contractors.
  • Never sign a contract with blanks; unacceptable terms can be added later.
  • Never pay a contractor in full or sign a completion certificate until the work is finished.
  • Ensure reconstruction is up to current code.
  • Make sure you review and understand all documents sent to your insurance carrier.
  • Never let a contractor pressure you into hiring them.
  • Never let a contractor interpret the insurance policy language.
  • Never let a contractor discourage you from contacting your insurance company.

Furthermore, some deceitful contractors will state they are supported by the government. However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency does not endorse individual contractors or loan agencies. Consumers should call FEMA for more specifics at (800) 621-FEMA.

Media Contact

If you have a question, want further information on the NICB, or to discuss insurance fraud or vehicle crime, please contact:

Tully Lehman
Public Affairs Manager
925.758.0744
tlehman@nicb.org

Brooke Kelley
Vice President of Communications
847.544.7085
bkelley@nicb.org

Or, if you are a reporter and have a request or question, please complete the Media Request Form.

Anyone with information concerning insurance fraud or vehicle theft can report it anonymously by calling toll-free 800.TEL.NICB (800.835.6422) or submitting a form on our website.

About the National Insurance Crime Bureau: Headquartered in Des Plaines, Ill., the NICB is the nation's leading not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to preventing, detecting and defeating insurance fraud and vehicle theft through data analytics, investigations, learning and development, government affairs and public affairs. The NICB is supported by more than 1,400 property and casualty insurance companies and self-insured organizations. NICB member companies wrote over $525 billion in insurance premiums in 2019, or more than 82% of the nation's property-casualty insurance. That includes more than 95% ($241 billion) of the nation's personal auto insurance. To learn more visit www.nicb.org.