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Fire victims warned against scams

November 21, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Victims of the Sayre Fire in Sylmar are being warned about being victimized again, this time by scam artists. Unfortunately, the Sayre Fire in Sylmar is the kind of tragedy that brings out criminals who want to cash in on a bad situation. This is a community that knows a lot about scam artists. There were plenty of them 14 years ago after the Sylmar earthquake. In the past week, those scam artists have returned again, they've seen a lot of suspicious activity and at least six people have been told to get out.

Where homeowners see desolation, scam artists see opportunity.

"It's not right, it's not right," said Oakridge Mobile Home Park Manager Ginny Harmon.

Harmon says all kinds of unlicensed business operators have come knocking and with the help of the state insurance commissioner, she's fending them off.

"They better stay out, that's all I can tell you," said Harmon. "They need to stay out."

"It is a felony to go into an area where there's been a wildfire and pretend to be a contractor or to be an unlicensed contractor. That's a felony. You immediately get arrested and you go to jail for that," said California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

The insurance watchdog says officers will soon be working undercover. Seveteen-hundred residents who now go table to table at the resource center for help are suffering plenty as it is.

"Terrible, from post offices to ... I, I can't even remember them all, to be honest with you, frank with you, you know, I changed post offices. What have I been doing?" said displaced resident Betty Zalud.

Confusion, distress, and talk about frustration. Bob Kulick lost his DirecTV satellite dish in the fire. He called to cancel his subscription.

"[The operator said] of course you'll have to pay three months' rent on the equipment and pay for the damage to the equipment, and I said 'Are you kidding?' " said displaced resident Bob Kulick.

Residents report similar problems with other providers, including DISH Network. Eyewitness News contacted DISH. A representative apologized, saying the company has a disaster policy and that they are providing several no-cost options to suspend service, including pause of service with no equipment fees. DirecTV as well apologized -- Kulick received incorrect information. There will be no fee for his burned equipment.

Now he and his neighbors can tend to other hurdles and challenges still unknown.

"It's pretty horrendous, that's for darn sure," said Kulick.

A lot of difficulties, but many residents praise the many organizations that are offering a helping hand, including the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and the Home Depot. They provided sifters so that residents could comb through their ruins and find smaller items. Another helping hand comes Sunday when a local restaurant has promised a Thanksgiving meal.


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