When disaster strikes, so do scammers, who come out of hiding to pounce on unsuspecting homeowners.
A public adjuster in California has lost his professional licenses and been banned for working in the insurance industry for eight years after an investigation by the Department of Insurance found that he misled wildfire victims and filed bogus claims on their behalf.
While this adjuster, Argen Youssefi, who owned California Recovery Group (CRG), has been taken off the chessboard, homeowners whose homes suffer wildfire or smoke damage need to beware of similar shady operators who are ready to take advantage of their plight.
After wildfires damaged homes, CRG would solicit business at people's properties and send mass mailers in an effort to file insurance claims in relation to smoke damage from wildfires. The mailers would direct homeowners to visit a website or call a number to receive smoke settlement information.
Their website (smokeclaim.com), claims the company has recovered thousands of dollars for their clients, listing amounts ranging from $24,000 to $46,000.
DOI investigators found CRG and its representatives would often mislead prospective clients by telling them the program was funded by the State of California. They would also tell them that there would be no claim against their homeowner's insurance and their insurance rates would not be affected.
Homeowners were told that since the wildfires were declared a catastrophic event, there would be no impact on their insurance policy. In fact, homeowner's insurance typically covers smoke damage.
CRG submitted insurance claims without the knowledge or consent of the homeowners and listed themselves as a payee on some of the submitted claims, according to the DOI, which adds that the company's representatives were not licensed by the department.
The state's insurance department noted there could be other victims in this case and the investigation into CRG is ongoing.
While this is the latest scammer the DOI has investigated, it warns others are likely out there.
Avoid being scammed
- If you receive a solicitation from any company offering to help you file a claim after a wildfire, you should proceed with caution. If you feel your home has suffered smoke damage, you can file a claim directly with your insurance carrier and try to settle it that way instead of hiring a public adjuster or attorney. Your insurer will not charge you to adjust the claim.
- You can ask us to help you with your claim, and don't be afraid to ask questions.
- If you hire a public adjuster to help with your claim, make sure they're licensed. A public adjuster will usually require a percentage of the claim settlement for their services.
- Public adjusters are licensed by the California Department of Insurance. To verify a public adjuster's license, call the agency's License Bureau at: 1-800-967-9331.
The DOI also advises homeowners to not call anyone to repair or replace a loss without first getting instructions from their insurer's claims adjuster, since their visual inspection of your loss may be necessary before repairs begin. Do not throw away damaged property until your adjuster advises you it is all right to do so.
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact us.