Published: October 23, 2017
Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of our community members who have been impacted by the wildfires. Unfortunately, this is a time when scam artists and unscrupulous people may try to take advantage of victims and the generosity of the community. Please be aware of the following information:
Price Gouging in Wildfire Areas
For 30 days after declaration of a state of emergency, California law generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10 percent, the price of an item before a state or local declaration of emergency. A State of Emergency was declared in Sonoma County on October 9, 2017. This law applies to those who sell food, emergency supplies, medical supplies, building materials, hotel accommodations, rental housing and gasoline. For reconstruction services and emergency cleanup services, it applies for 180 days after a declaration of emergency. However, please note that increased pricing standing alone may not always be considered price gouging. If an individual or business can show increased costs for providing the items due to increased cost of goods, shipping or labor that is an exception to the prohibition on increased prices. For example, due to the increased need for face masks, if a vendor had to have the masks sent by expedited shipping in order to restock the items to meet the need, the vendor would be entitled to increase its price to cover the increased costs. Additionally, the fact that one business may charge more for an item that another business is not sufficient evidence of price gouging. You should look at the cost charged by the specific individual or business prior to the state of emergency and after.
Price Gouging is a violation of the law and is punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000, or a fine and imprisonment under Penal Code Section 396. To immediately file a complaint through our office visit our website at http://sonomacounty.ca.gov/District-Attorney/, or by call (707) 565-2311. Please provide any copies of advertisements, communications or other evidence of the increased pricing if possible. Our office will investigate and determine if there has been a violation of the law.
Scammers frequently create fraudulent donation organizations to pray on the kindness of those who wish to help out victims of a disaster. They pocket the money and generally it is difficult to trace such individuals. Make sure that any contributions your make to a relief fund or charity are known charities such as the Red Cross or Salvation Army or are funding efforts created by people or organizations that you are familiar with such as the local efforts by Redwood Credit Union. The Attorney General’s office has a website that lists registered charities at http://rct.doj.ca.gov/Verification/Web/Search.aspx?facility=Y
Unlicensed or Fraudulent Contractors
As a result of increased demand for constructions services, many unlicensed contractors seek out work. Please check with the Contractor’s State Licensing Board website to make sure that the contractor you hire is licensed, insured and bonded at http://www.cslb.ca.gov/ and that they have the appropriate specialty license if required. Contracting without a license is a crime and enhanced penalties are provided for contracting without a license during a state of emergency. Reports of unlicensed contractors can also be made on the website.
Additionally, some contractors may take on more work that they are able to perform or try to exact a greater deposit than the $1,000 deposit they are authorized by law to require before work commences. Reports of any problems with licensed contractors should also be reported to the State Contractors Board.
Be wary of anyone who offers to represent you for a fee to deal with your insurance company or to assist you in obtaining state or federal funding. The City and County of established Local Assistance Centers to offer these services free of charge to residents. Public Adjusters need to be licensed and can be checked with the Department of Insurance if you should require additional assistance.
Fake Disaster Officials --Guard Your Private Information
Before providing any personal information to anyone who comes to your door or calls asking for personal information, make sure that you ask for identification and check it out before providing information. Ask for a number to call back and then verify with the agency that the person calling works for the agency and is not an imposter.