District Attorney Warns Valley Fire Victims Of Scammers
San Diego County's District Attorney is warning residents affected by the Valley Fire to watch out for scams and solicitations by unlicensed contractors.
Investigators are going door-to-door to post signage and alert residents of potential threats.
District Attorney Summer Stephan warned fire victims of scammers and businesses looking to take advantage of their situation. Common forms of disaster-related scams are done through unlicensed contracting and price gouging, and they can end in prosecution.
“Our investigators are in the area, they’re notifying residents and neighbors so they can look out for each other,” Stephan said. “And if we get these reports we will prosecute and hold people accountable.”
In the aftermath of natural disasters, debris-clearing scams often surface.
Working as an unlicensed contractor during a state of emergency is a felony. The County of San Diego recommends to keep these tips in mind when selecting a contractor:
– Ask for proof of licensing such as a pocket license and a second photo ID.
– Always verify that the license number matches the contractor you are dealing with.
– Beware of scare tactics, odd calls or unsolicited contacts.
– Make sure the contractor carries workers’ compensation and liability insurance.
Stephan also said not to provide payment upfront and be sure to ask where the debris is being taken.
“Other than offering to reconstruct or fix the damage, there are contractors that offer debris removal, and they also demand payment up front and they pretend to give a good deal,” she said. “In the end, either they will not do the debris removal or they will take it and essentially dump it on a neighbor’s property or dispose of it in a non-environmentally lawful manner.”
Additionally, it is illegal for a business to increase their prices for essential goods or services by more than 10 percent during a state of emergency, unless they can show their own costs have been increased. Doing so could lead to one-year imprisonment in county jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
“We are not going to tolerate victims being re-victimized by unscrupulous contractors or businesses or scammers,” Stephan said.
As of Thursday morning, the Valley Fire is smaller than previously thought at 17,093 acres and is 90% contained.
The Valley Fire destroyed 30 residences and 31 outbuildings, damaged 11 other structures and injured three firefighters.