In the wake of the bushfires across South East NSW, Australia's consumer credit regulator has warned consumers and small business owners to watch out for fictitious or unscrupulous tradespeople, repairers or firms offering to assist them with their insurance claim.
Australian Securities and Investments Commission's (ASIC) Commissioner Sean Hughes said there were "unscrupulous operators" that typically target homeowners, farmers and small businesses in the aftermath of natural disasters.
"They may claim to be able to identify damage to your property, sometimes by way of a free inspection," he said.
"Be wary of anyone who asks for payment up front and who asks you to sign a contract immediately.
"Don't agree to sign anything which prevents you from dealing directly with your insurer, broker, financial adviser or lawyer.
"Anybody who is concerned about the conduct of such a person or firm should contact ASIC."
ASIC recommended to always check the licence and ABN of tradespeople and companies and to contact your insurer directly if you are approached by a firm offering to assist with your claim.
Commissioner Hughes also said that the trusted insurer of consumers and businesses adversely impacted by the bushfires may be able to provide emergency accommodation and financial support as part of their claim.
"If you're affected by the bushfires, ASIC suggests you deal directly with your insurer or an authorised, trusted insurance broker or financial adviser," he said.
Information on what to do after a natural disaster is available on ASIC's MoneySmart website.
This includes information about contacting your insurer, assessing the damage when it is safe to do so, and where to find additional help if you need it.
Financial help is available to those impacted by the recent bushfires and MoneySmart also provides contact details of free legal, financial and support services available in each state and territory to help people during the recovery process.
If you are unhappy with your insurer's response, or with the outcome of your claim, delays, the proposed settlement or the service you have received, you can lodge a complaint with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority by calling 1800 931 678.
Relief for company-related fees
ASIC is offering assistance for customers, including small businesses, who are affected by the current bushfires by providing relief from various company-related fees that may be payable.
Details of how to apply for fee relief or how to contact ASIC for other assistance is available on ASIC's website.