Fraudulent "Traveler" Contractors Plead Guilty
STOCKTON, San Joaquin County — As the result of a Contractors State License Board investigation, on March 20, 2002, two unlicensed contractors, acting in the manner of "Travelers" were ordered to pay nearly $13,000 in restitution to three elderly victims. The CSLB investigator in the case hand delivered restitution checks to the three victims today. Harry John and Anthony John pleaded nolo contendre in San Joaquin County court to felony counts of burglary, elder financial abuse and illegal use of a contractors license. They were also sentenced to one year in the county jail.
Travelers work as organized groups of unlicensed home repair contractors who move from town to town scamming consumers. Typically, they approach a business or homeowner and offer to perform work with materials they claim are left over from another job in the neighborhood. After a deal is made the Travelers perform unnecessary, substandard or destructive work. They quickly move on, often before the homeowners know they've been ripped-off.
In one case, Harry John and Anthony John solicited an elderly woman to repair her roof. The victim said they told her she had leaks and pointed out drops of water on the ceiling. She paid them $300 that day, and then was driven to the bank the following day to cash a $9,000 check. The bank refused to cash the check and notified the sheriffs department. Unfortunately, she subsequently withdrew $4,000 from another bank and gave it to the contractor.
In the other cases, the victims were asked to retrieve a bucket of water so that the roof could be checked for leaks. While the victims were out of the room, the phony contractors stole cash and a wedding ring from one victim, and stole cash and checks from another.
Travelers tend to target older neighborhoods or mobile home parks and seek out elderly victims. Many victims do not know they have been defrauded until family members review their bank records and discover the funds are gone.
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 invertibile 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.
Consumers are urged to verify contractors licenses by calling CSLB at (800) 321-2752 or visit CSLB's website at www.cslb.ca.gov.
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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