By Emily B. Rose
For residents and business owners in California, wildfire season has become an unwelcomed annual reality. These fires, that typically start in early autumn, have taken their toll on Californians causing increased loss and devastation in recent years. Wildfire season requires a tremendous amount of preparation for residents and takes its toll physically, financially and of course, emotionally, on all Californians. In 2019 alone, over 200,000 people evacuated their homes while over 7,000 fires burned that destroyed over 250,000 acres and over 700 structures.
In recent years, California’s wildfire seasons have resulted in some of the most destructive, deadliest and costliest fires in the state’s history. According to the California Department of Insurance, claims from the 2018 Camp, Hill and Woolsey fires, exceeded $12 billion, Estimates for the total damage and economic loss to California approximated $400 billion. Although 2018 was the worst wildfire season on record, 2019 itself devastated several California communities. Through October 29, 2019, experts estimated that fire-related losses approximated $25.4 billion
Considering the exorbitant amounts of money involved, natural disasters serve as a feeding ground for criminals looking to turn a quick profit. Due to the nefarious motives of criminals to “cash in”, it is increasingly important for California residents to have access to reliable legal resources and identity theft protection. In 2018, the California Attorney General released a consumer alert advising residents to watch for price gouging, a common tactic after a natural disaster. Additional wildfire scams include phony housing inspectors, fraudulent building contractors, meritless FEMA claims, and charity/grant disaster relief scams.
With wildfires causing California to declare a state of emergency, it is not surprising then that employers seek to help employees affected by this type of devastation. Many employers look for ways to help employees affected by wildfires and resulting scams. In addition to hosting blood drives and organizing charitable outreach in the community, employers can provide additional assistance by offering a variety of voluntary benefits focused on ensuring employees have an outlet to deal with the inevitable legal and financial impact of wildfires.
Group legal and identity theft protection plans can provide both preventative and reactive solutions in the event of wildfires and other natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes and hurricanes. In California, the occurrence of wildfires has increased dramatically, causing progressive benefit decision-makers to realize the value that group legal and identity theft protection plans can provide their employees.
According to a recent study conducted on behalf of LegalShield, 61% of employee respondents acknowledged facing a legal event in the prior two years. Additionally, more than 53% of employees say their legal event had to be resolved during work hours; with a phone call (39%) or taking time off (30%). Employees suffering a loss from a California wildfire may be faced with the daunting task of navigating insurance claims or dealing with contractor disputes which increases the likelihood of missed work or workplace distractions exponentially. After the 2018 fires, residents admitted not knowing they could file a claim against their electric company without a lawyer nor did many seek support of a lawyer.
Services like group legal plans can assist employees with these overwhelming tasks and make sure their legal rights are protected. Likewise, an identity theft protection plan can provide employees consultation on relief fund fraud and charitable scams, as well as monitor personally identifiable information and restore stolen identities. Surveys reveal that 89% of employees responded that owning an identity theft product would provide them the necessary peace of mind knowing their identity is protected.
LegalShield provides direct access to dedicated and qualified provider law firms who can provide prompt legal advice and consultation in an employee’s time of need. Easy, affordable access to legal assistance during a difficult time can make a huge impact on both the employee’s personal well-being and how they view their employer. Sixty-six percent of employees believe that the quality of an organization’s benefit package is critical and 40% responded that a legal services plan included in a benefits package would positively impact overall job satisfaction. In the same survey, 50% of employees desired legal and identity theft protection benefits from their employer. Providing a legal and identity theft protection benefit is a win-win for the employee and employer.
Knowing where to turn during a catastrophe is one of the primary benefits of legal and identity-theft protection. With LegalShield, the participant is the critical focus of all services we provide. Whether utilizing a mobile app, such as LegalShield’s, that allows direct calls to law firms and identity theft professionals at the touch of a button, or through a toll-free number, the primary goal is to take the stress off the participant so they can get back to what matters most, their loved ones. Participants should look for a service that streamlines the process by using technology to prepare or upload legal documents to their provider law firm to review. In the wake of a wildfire, expedited legal assistance is paramount. Additionally, identity theft protection services, such as IDShield, enables participants to learn about common identity theft scams, actively monitor their personally identifiable information, and work with licensed private investigators on restoration. In the event their identity is stolen, they enjoy peace of mind that it will be restored to its pre-theft status by qualified professionals. This peace of mind lasts all year round, not just during wildfire season.
While certainly a valuable benefit for employees who reside in natural disaster-prone areas, group legal and identity theft protection plans are a critical piece to any financial wellness benefit. With proactive features such as fraud alerts, credit score monitoring and even providing access to a lawyer to review complicated insurance policies, legal and identity theft plans help employees protect their legal and financial rights. These benefits are the perfect accompaniment to any benefits package and apply to all employees regardless of age, profession, demographics or stage of life.
Emily B. Rose is the SVP of Sales for LegalShield’s Business Solutions Division. Rose has over 15 years of experience in the voluntary benefits space, including group legal plans, identity theft protections plans, supplemental health and property and casualty. Emily is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.