State Agency Warns of Fraudulent "Traveler" Contractors
SACRAMENTO — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) issued a warning today that fraudulent home repair contractors known as "Travelers" are making their annual trip through California - many with the intent to victimize homeowners. Travelers are known to arrive in California during the winter months - when it is especially cold in other states - to carry out roofing, painting and paving scams. The CSLB has begun investigating complaints about current Traveler activity throughout the state.
Travelers generally are organized groups of home repair contractors-often related-who move from town to town scamming consumers. They typically knock on a business or homeowner's door and offer to perform work with materials they claim are left over from another job. After a deal is struck the Travelers perform substandard, useless, or sometimes destructive work. They quickly move on, often before the homeowners know they've been defrauded, and are difficult to find.
A common scenario is that a Traveler knocks on a homeowner's door, claims to have roofing material left over from a job just completed in the neighborhood, and offers to repair or seal the roof or driveway at a reduced price. The Traveler sprays a useless, watery substance on the roof or driveway, collects a cash payment, and then moves on without leaving a contact phone or address. Once homeowners realize no work has been done and that they have been scammed, the Traveler is gone.
In San Joaquin County, two suspected Travelers were arrested after a Stockton bank manager contacted the sheriff's department. Harry John and Anthony John are alleged to have solicited an elderly woman to repair her roof. The woman stated that she was not aware her roof needed work, and that the two contractors pushed their way into her home. She said they told her she had leaks and pointed out drops of water on the ceiling. She paid them $300 in cash that day, then was driven to the bank the following day to cash a $9,000 check. The bank would not cash the check and notified the sheriff's department; however, she took out $4,000 from another bank and gave it to the contractor.
A common Traveler routine is to sneak a wet sponge or spray bottle into the victim's home, secretly apply water to the ceiling, and then claim it is wet from a leaky roof.
Travelers tend to target older residential neighborhoods or mobile home parks and look for elderly homeowner victims. Many victims do not know they have been defrauded until family members examine their bank records and discover that funds have been spent.
One suspected Traveler was arrested in San Diego County in December for contracting without a license. He is scheduled to appear in court on January 22. Leonard Willie Jeffrey, an unlicensed paving contractor, and three associates, all from the Midwest, arrived in San Diego with paving equipment in tow, and checked into a local motel. After they picked up a load of asphalt from a supplier, they drove to a residence, offered to pave the homeowner's driveway for an exorbitant $2,500, and began work, which was below industry standard.
The CSLB points out the dangers of this scenario: the contractor had no license, no local business address or phone number, and no way for the homeowner to contact him or follow up to resolve problems. Paving jobs by Travelers are often done poorly, the asphalt cracking or washing away after the first rain.
The CSLB urges consumers to be aware that Travelers are working in California and to watch for these "red flags:"
- door-to-door solicitations from individuals related by family
- an offer to do painting, roofing or paving repairs
- an offer to apply "sealers" to roofs, walls, concrete or asphalt
- a claim they have left-over materials at a cheap price
- high pressure or scare tactics
- the use of invertible names such as mixing Charles Johnston Stewart and Charles Stewart Johnston
- A reluctance to give an up-front price or a written contract in advance of work being performed
- A demand for cash
- Brand new vehicles, truck-mounted spray machines, and out-of-state license plates
- Toll-free telephone numbers instead of local numbers
- Post office boxes, private mailboxes, and suites instead of local business addresses.
The CSLB, which operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, licenses 278,000 contractors in California and investigates 25,000 complaints against licensed and unlicensed contractors every year.
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