Almost Three Dozen Unlicensed Operators Netted By State Contractors Board in Undercover Central Coast Sting
Phony contractors caught after giving illegal bids to investigators
SACRAMENTO — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is warning consumers about the dangers of hiring unlicensed contractors following a successful sting in San Luis Obispo. CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT), with help from the San Luis Obispo Police Department, conducted the two-day undercover operation to underscore the fact that illegal contractors are working up and down the Central Coast.
SWIFT investigators stung a total of 35 unlicensed contractors in the operation that took place Wednesday and Thursday of this week. A total of 24 "Notices to Appear" (NTA) were given to suspects to appear in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court for contracting without a license. Eleven others were given administrative citations for violations like improper advertising. One unlicensed operator who was cited just one week ago by a CSLB investigator and warned about `1undercover stings showed up to bid on a job. Another who had a produced a fake international drivers license as ID, was arrested on a previous warrant for driving without a license. Background checks showed others with criminal activity records.
Undercover stings are held several times a month up and down the State. Their objective is to level the playing field for licensed contractors competing in the local business area, and to protect consumers from fraud and scam artists. "Operations like this give us a chance to educate both homeowners and would-be contractors," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Unlicensed contractors hurt the economy and pose a serious liability for the people who hire them." Each unlicensed operator is given a contractor's license application and the message to "get a license." before they go after home improvement jobs again. The penalties go up each time they are caught working without a license.
Investigators identified potential suspects from advertisements, business card handouts and tips from licensed contractors. The SWIFT members invited the suspected unlicensed operators to a house near the Cal Poly campus where they bid on projects that included painting, concrete work and landscaping. If they gave a bid over California's legal limit for contracting without a license ($500 in labor and materials), they were cited. They could face a maximum of six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine for a first offense.
"We are very pleased to cooperate with the CSLB in operations like this", said Larry Rohlfes of the California Landscape Contractors Association. ""It's very frustrating for our members, to see jobs taken away by others who break the law and underbid us by not paying taxes or workers compensation."
Because of their non-compliance with the workers compensation guidelines, unlicensed contractors often submit lower bids on jobs. But, if a worker is injured on the job, the homeowner could be considered liable. And, if a deal goes bad with an unlicensed contractor, the homeowner has very few options.
Before hiring a contractor, homeowners should go online or call CSLB's automated phone system to see if a contractor has a valid license. They can also check out the contractor's license history and get bond and personnel information.
The CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips when dealing with a building contractor:
- Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see the license.
- Don't rush into decisions and don't hire the first contractor who comes along.
- Be especially hesitant when approached by someone offering home improvement services door-to-door, especially when they will use material they claim is left over from another job
- Verify the contractor's license by checking online or via CSLB's automated phone service at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752)
- Don't pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whichever is less
- Don't pay cash, and don't let the payments get ahead of the work
- Get three bids, check references, and get a written contract
- Contact the CSLB if you have a complaint against a contractor
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The CSLB licenses and regulates California's 292,000 contractors, and investigates more than 20,000 complaints against contractors annually.
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