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CSLB Press Release - 08/05/2005

Phony Contractors in Riverside County Stung By State Contractors Board

Operators caught giving illegal bids to undercover investigators in Murrieta

SACRAMENTO — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is warning consumers about the dangers of hiring unlicensed contractors following a successful sting in Murrieta. CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT), with help from the Murrieta Police Department, conducted the undercover operation to underscore the fact that illegal contractors are working in Riverside County.

SWIFT investigators stung a total of 14 unlicensed contractors in the operation that took place yesterday (Thursday). The charges they face in Riverside County Superior Court range from contracting without a license to advertising and contract violations.

Undercover stings are held several times a month up and down the State. Their objective is to level the playing field for licensed contractors competing in the local business area, and to protect consumers from fraud and scam artists. One of the unlicensed people who showed up at the sting house and gave an $8,000 estimate for tile work mentioned to undercover investigators that he heard on the news that "guys are doing stings down in San Diego and arresting people for contracting without a license." The investigators explained that the current sting was taking place in Murrieta as they handcuffed and arrested him.

"Operations like this give us a chance to educate both homeowners and would-be contractors," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Unlicensed contractors hurt the economy and pose a serious liability for the people who hire them." Each unlicensed operator is given a contractor's license application and the message to "get a license" before they go after home improvement jobs again. A first violation could result in a maximum six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. A second offense carries a mandatory 90-day jail sentence.

The SWIFT investigators identified potential suspects from advertisements, business card handouts and tips from licensed contractors. They invited the suspected unlicensed operators to a house near Glen Arbor Park where they bid on projects that included painting, concrete work and tiling. The sting house was volunteered by a person who had been victimized by an unlicensed contractor. When the operators gave a bid over California's legal limit for contracting without a license ($500 in labor and materials), they were arrested and cited. The Murrieta Police Department was on-hand for backup and to see if any of the suspects had arrests warrants or any other problem.

Because they often pay their workers in cash and do not provide workers' compensation insurance, unlicensed contractors often submit lower bids on jobs. But, if a worker is injured, the homeowner could be considered liable. Plus, if a deal goes bad with an unlicensed contractor, the homeowner has very few options.

Before hiring a contractor, homeowners should go online or call CSLB's automated phone system to see if a contractor has a valid license. They can also check out the contractor's license history and get bond and personnel information.

The CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips when dealing with a building contractor:

  • Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see the license.
  • Don't rush into decisions and don't hire the first contractor who comes along.
  • Be especially hesitant when approached by someone offering home improvement services door-to-door, especially when they will use material they claim is left over from another job
  • Verify the contractor's license by checking online or via CSLB's automated phone service at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752)
  • Don't pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whichever is less
  • Don't pay cash, and don't let the payments get ahead of the work
  • Get three bids, check references, and get a written contract
  • Contact the CSLB if you have a complaint against a contractor

The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The CSLB licenses and regulates California's 292,000 contractors, and investigates more than 20,000 complaints against contractors annually.