SAN DIEGO — A wildfire task force will fan out across the fire-ravaged North County Monday and Tuesday to warn homeowners against would-be criminals who prey on victims of natural disasters, the District Attorney’s Office said.
The investigators assigned to the task force come from various agencies, including the D.A.’s Office, the California Department of Insurance, the Contractors State License Board and the Department of Motor Vehicles, according to the District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
“We’re joining forces to make sure people affected by the fires aren’t re-victimized,” Dumanis said. “The sooner we warn residents about would-be scammers, the less likelihood there is that people will be duped.”
When Hilda Kalaidjia and her husband were allowed to return to their home on Black Rail Road in Carlsbad, they found a contractor’s flyer at their doorstep.
“I feel kind of violated,” said Kalaidjia.
“Nobody was allowed in here, the whole area was evacuated. How did they get in here?” her husband Paul said.
A similar task force was formed after the massive 2003 and 2007 wildfires in San Diego County.
Also Sunday, the FBI put out a warning to non-fire victims to be cautious when making donations to help those who lost homes or businesses in the fires.
“Unfortunately, criminals can exploit these tragedies for their own gain by sending fraudulent emails and creating phony websites designed to solicit contributions,” the FBI stated.
The agency offered the following tips to avoid donation scams:
- do not respond to unsolicited email;
- be skeptical of individuals asking for donations via email or social networking sites;
- beware of organizations with copycat names similar to but not exactly the same as those with reputable charities, and organizations that use a .com web address instead of a .org;
- research a charity independently on the Internet rather than click on a unsolicited link; and
- be wary of anyone who is too aggressive in asking for a donation or asks for cash, a wire transfer or check addressed to an individual rather than an organization.
East County Warning
Authorities warned East County merchants Monday to beware of a fire-inspection scam that has been cropping up in the area.
The perpetrators of the scheme have been showing up, unsolicited, at businesses in El Cajon, La Mesa, and Lemon Grove and claiming they were there on behalf of a public-safety agency to conduct an official fire inspection, according to Heartland Fire & Rescue.
If allowed access to a building, Heartland said, the crooks conduct a “visual inspection” of the premises and later send a bill that can run into hundreds of dollars.
Legitimate inspections in those cities are conducted by either Heartland personnel or city workers who carry department identification cards and wear fire department uniforms and badges, or apparel with a municipal insignia. Many of the bogus contractors outfit themselves in similar apparel.
During an official inspection, any violations or corrections are addressed in writing. If there is a fee for an inspection made by the city or the fire department, an invoice will come directly from the city by mail.
Anyone wishing to verify the status of inspectors can call Heartland at (619) 667-1355 to verify employment.
Authorities offered these tips when working with contractors:
- Be sure the contractor is licensed. By law, the contractor must post their license number on all advertised materials;
- Beware of scare tactics, odd calls or unsolicited contacts;
- Make sure the contractor carries workers’ compensation and liability insurance;
- Do not provide payment upfront.