Calif. Commissioner Creates Task Force to Protect Wildfire Victims

October 31, 2003

Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi launched two major efforts by the California Department of Insurance (CDI) to protect and aid victims of the Southern California wildfires.

Noting that insurance fraud soars after disasters, Garamendi, at press conferences in San Diego and San Bernardino, announced that he has formed the Disaster Fraud Management Task Force, which is designed to thwart and arrest scam artists who prey upon victims of disasters. The Department will work in concert with several other enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to expand its efforts over the entire disaster region.

Garamendi also announced that the Department will hold informational workshops in mid-November to help educate and empower victims as they deal with insurance issues resulting from the fires.

“I will do everything within my power to ensure that the victims of these fires do not become victims a second time,” Garamendi said. “We will put the spotlight on the unscrupulous actors who seek to benefit from the tragedy of others, and we will help put an end to the grief they leave behind.”

Plans for the task force call for the Department of Insurance Fraud Division to coordinate with the Contractors State License Board, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, and a prosecutor from the local District Attorney’s Office to create an Enforcement Task Force. This unit will be deployed to fire-stricken areas for the purpose of public outreach and enforcement actions against unlicensed contractors and public adjusters operating inappropriately.

Public adjusters often solicit business by showing up after disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and wildfires. They offer to file a victim’s claim and to negotiate a faster and bigger monetary settlement in exchange for a percentage of the total amount. But in some cases the benefit, if any, is not worth the additional cost to the policyholder.

He also warned that construction contractors who offer to provide fast service immediately after the disaster should also be carefully scrutinized. Most are legitimate and hard working, Garamendi said, but some are looking to make a quick score in the wake of a disaster, taking cash up front and leaving behind unfinished or shoddy workmanship.

The workshops will provide expertise from the Department, other government agencies, and industry representatives. They will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the following locations:

Nov. 10
Taylor Hall
1775 North Indian Hill

Nov. 11
Van Nuys State Building
6150 Van Nuys Blvd
Van Nuys

Nov. 12
St. Gregory the Great Church
11451 Blue Cypress Drive
San Diego

Nov. 14
San Bernardino International Airport
San Bernardino

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