Contractors Board Warns Senior Citizens to Be Aware of Home Repair Rip-offs
SACRAMENTO — May is Older Californians Month, and the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) reminds elderly homeowners to be aware of home repair rip-offs that target them. The CSLB is aware that senior citizens are often the object of contractor scams for a number of reasons: their older homes may be in need of repair, they have access to cash accumulated from a lifetime of saving, they may feel intimidated by solicitors, or they believe the promises of an unscrupulous contractor because of a trusting nature.
"Unlicensed and unscrupulous contractors continue to target the elderly. Some seniors lose thousands of dollars or even their life's savings when caught in a scam. The CSLB urges all seniors to use caution, take their time, and check with the CSLB before hiring home repair contractors," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands.
Recently, an unlicensed contractor who targeted elderly victims in Alameda and Contra Costa counties was charged by the Alameda County District Attorneys Office with 43 felony violations, including elder financial abuse, theft, burglary, and theft by false pretenses. Louis Ray Watson would hand out business cards for handyman work, take money, and then perform little or no work. Watson was sentenced to 24 years in state prison.
Also in Northern California, Harry John and Anthony John, a team of unlicensed contractors operating as "Travelers," solicited an elderly San Joaquin County woman to repair her roof. They falsely stated that her roof was leaking, convinced her to pay them $300, and drove her to the bank to withdraw $4,000. The duo victimized other senior homeowners by entering their homes, distracting them, then stealing cash or jewelry from their homes. In March 2002, the unlicensed "Travelers" were sentenced to one year in county jail and ordered to pay $13,000 in restitution to three victims.
Last year in Riverside County, an unlicensed contractor received an 18-year prison sentence after failing to pay restitution to his victims. One of his victims was a 74-year-old woman who paid the contractor $16,000 - nearly all of her life's savings. After working on her ceiling and leaving her without air conditioning in the middle of the summer, Gary Wagner abandoned the project. Other homeowners reported that Wagner would strike up a conversation with them while they shopped in home improvement stores, and then offer to perform contracting work.
"Unfortunately, the CSLB cannot always secure restitution for victims. Senior homeowners can avoid problems with unscrupulous contractors by being aware of their rights and responsibilities," said Sands.
The CSLB urges all consumers to follow these tips when hiring a contractor:
- Hire only licensed contractors
- Check the license with the CSLB at www.cslb.ca.gov or (800) 321-CSLB
- Get at least three bids and check references
- Get a written contract, and don't sign it until you understand the terms
- 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 the payments get ahead of the work.
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The CSLB licenses and regulates California's 278,000 contractors, and investigates 25,000 complaints against contractors annually.
Sign Up For News Release Email Alerts
Please type in your email below and click submit.