Contractor Jailed on Suspicion of Elder Abuse
SAN DIEGO — A Contractors State License Board (CSLB) investigation led to the arrest last week of an unlicensed contractor who has an extensive criminal record, including grand theft, and a history of targeting the elderly. Ralph P. Rickly, owner of West Coast Mobile Home Service, is suspected of taking $10,000 for remodeling and repair work worth $250 from an elderly Escondido woman who suffers from memory loss.
The Escondido Police Department, accompanied by CSLB investigators, arrested Rickly at his place of business and booked him into the San Diego County jail. He was arrested for grand theft, elder abuse, and contracting without a license.
Rickly allegedly solicited the 75-year-old widow to perform a variety of contracting jobs on her mobile home. The woman paid the contract price of $4,570 before the job was completed, then three days later, Rickly asked for and received an additional $5,500. In a statement to the CSLB and police department, the elderly woman said that she could not remember why she paid Rickly twice the contract price. Family members discovered the excessive payments a month later when she tried to withdraw cash and found that her bank balance was nearly exhausted.
"Sadly, this case illustrates how some elderly homeowners are targeted by dishonest contractors who are out to take advantage of vulnerable consumers. Before hiring or paying a contractor, I urge all homeowners to take their time before making a decision and to check with the CSLB for information," said Steve Sands, Registrar of the Contractors State License Board.
The CSLB warns elderly homeowners to check with a friend or relative before signing a contract and to be wary of solicitors who create a false sense of urgency and pressure them into agreeing to home improvement work. To arm senior citizens with the tools to combat unscrupulous contracting practices, the CSLB is sponsoring a series of Senior Scam Stopper Seminars throughout the state. The next event will be held on July 11 at 9:30 a.m. at the Carlsbad Senior Center in Carlsbad. The free seminars will feature presentations by CSLB investigators, local law enforcement, the Bureau of Automotive Repair, and AARP. Free consumer protection information will be available.
Senior citizens should follow these tips when hiring a contractor:
- Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see the pocket license
- Check the contractor's license on the CSLB's web site at www.cslb.ca.gov or by calling (800) 321-CSLB
- Be wary of door-to-door solicitations
- Don't be pressured into making an immediate decision about hiring a contractor
- Get at least three bids and check references
- Get a written contract
- Ask a friend or relative to review the contract before signing
- Don't pay more than 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less, as a down payment
- Don't pay cash and don't let payments get ahead of the work
- Contact the CSLB if you have a complaint against a contractor
The Contractors State License Board operates under the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The CSLB licenses and regulates California's 278,000 contractors and investigates 25,000 complaints against contractors annually.
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