State searches for wildfire fraudsters
July 14, 2017
• Agents scouring the area near this week’s Butte County fire
• “Take your time so you can protect yourself against con artists”
The California Contractors State License Board has sent its agents to Butte County in an effort to protect businesses and residents from wildfire scamsters.
The CSLB says victims of the “wall” wildfire could be targeted by unlicensed contractors who could overcharge and underperform on repair work.
Unlicensed or unscrupulous individuals often try to prey on victims whose homes were either damaged or destroyed, the board says.
With the state declaring a state of emergency in the Butte County area affected by the Wall Fire, enhanced penalties are in place for those caught trying to contract without a license.
It is a felony to contract without a license in a declared disaster area, the board points out. Punishment may include up to 16 months in state prison or a fine of up to $10,000.
Contractors working on a job — from debris removal to making repairs and rebuilding — totaling $500 or more for labor and materials must be licensed by CSLB. To become licensed, a contractor must pass two licensing exams, verify at least four years of journey-level experience, carry a license bond, and pass a criminal background check.
"Although it’s understandable that property owners want to make repairs or begin rebuilding quickly, it’s important not to rush," says CSLB Registrar David Fogt. "Take your time so you can protect yourself against con artists who will take your money and run — or incompetent contractors who will perform shoddy work. Hire only licensed contractors and check their qualifications."
CSLB says it is already partnering with other local and state agencies, including the Butte County District Attorney’s Office and Department of Insurance to target those trying to victimize homeowners a second time. The first steps include sweeps through the fire area, to educate fire victims, and post warning signs.
In the weeks and months ahead, CSLB and partner agencies will keep a high profile in the fire area, with unannounced sweeps and possible sting operations. CSLB staff is also available to meet with fire victims at a Local Assistance Center set up this week at the Oroville Municipal Auditorium.