Unlicensed Contractors Caught in Undercover Sting Operation
State Agency Issues Warning to Older Californians
SAN DIEGO — Recognizing that May is Older Californians Month, the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is issuing a warning to elderly homeowners: seniors are often targeted for home repair rip-offs.
In fact, nine suspected unlicensed contractors were cited last week in a San Diego senior citizen mobile home park during an undercover sting operation conducted by the Board's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team. The sting underscores the fact that unlicensed and unscrupulous contractors victimize senior citizens. Seven phony contractors caught in the sting received misdemeanor Notices to Appear in municipal court, and two received administrative citations. All were cited for contracting without a license, and some were also cited for requesting an excessive down payment.
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.
Here's how the sting worked: suspected unlicensed contractors who are known to target senior citizens were invited by CSLB investigators posing as homeowners to bid on work at the "sting" house—a mobile home in a seniors only park. Bidders were contacted from advertisements they placed in local senior publications, posted on senior center bulletin boards, or known repeat offenders from CSLB investigative files. If their bid for the project was $500 or more and they failed to have a license, they were cited, or if their bid was less than $500 and they failed to disclose they were unlicensed and provide a required written notice, they were cited. Suspected unlicensed contractors bid on concrete work, window replacement, paint, and tile work.
By law, anyone who contracts for or bids on a construction project priced at $500 or more (total labor and materials) must be licensed by the CSLB. To qualify for a license, a contractor must pass a trade and license law examination, verify four years of journey-level experience in the trade, and post a license bond. Unlicensed contractors can advertise only if they state in their ad that they are unlicensed and bid on work valued less than $500.
Additionally, a home improvement down payment cannot exceed 10 percent of the project price or $1,000, whichever is less. By adhering to the down payment law, senior citizens can avoid paying money for work not done and materials not delivered. Some unscrupulous contractors are known to take large down payments, and never return to complete the project.
Anyone can check the status of a contractor's license and order free publications, including "What Seniors Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor" at www.cslb.ca.gov.
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.
Note to editors:
Interviews with the supervising investigator at the sting are available by appointment. Footage of the sting is available. To schedule an interview or obtain broadcast-quality B-roll footage, contact Tracey Weatherby at (916) 255-4161 or Lynette Blumhardt at (916) 255-3915.
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