State Contractors Board Goes After Phony Contractors In Shasta County
Two-day undercover operation targets growing problem
REDDING — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is warning Shasta County residents to watch out for phony contractors. The warning follows an undercover operation conducted in Redding by the CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT). The sting and sweep were set up to address complaints about unlicensed operators in the area.
During Thursday's undercover sting, conducted with the assistance of the Shasta County District Attorney's Insurance Fraud Unit (DA), SWIFT investigators nabbed 11 unlicensed contractors and gave them Notices to Appear (NTA). They must answer charges of contracting without a license when they appear before a Shasta County Superior Court judge on October 31. In addition, SWIFT and the DA will follow-up on another unlicensed contractor, who had received a previous NTA. He left the sting house before receiving a second NTA, which could have resulted in a mandatory 90-day jail sentence.
The SWIFT team identified potential unlicensed operators from various advertisements. Investigators, posing as homeowners, invited them to a house where they bid on projects that included tree trimming, landscaping and building a deck. When the operators gave a bid over California's legal limit for contracting without a license ($500 in labor and materials), they were cited. DA Investigators played a key role in identifying employers who may be in violation of workers' compensation insurance laws.
"Consumers need to be aware that when they hire an unlicensed individual to do work on their property, they're rolling the dice and may be inviting trouble," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Many of these people have criminal records or operate outside the law on several levels." In Thursday's sting, one man given an NTA was on parole for four drunk driving convictions.
On Friday morning, SWIFT investigators swept around the Redding area, in search of unlicensed contractors on the job. Undercover stings and sweeps 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. Unlicensed contractors frequently submit lower bids on jobs because they often pay their workers in cash and do not provide workers' compensation insurance. But, if a worker is injured, the homeowner could be considered liable. Plus, if a deal goes bad with an unlicensed contractor, the homeowner has few options. "We're cracking down on this illegal activity to protect consumers," said Shasta County District Attorney Gerald Benito. "Our office has identified and will prosecute illegal contractors."
Each unlicensed operator nabbed in the sting was given a contractor's license application and urged to "go straight" by getting a license before they go after home improvement jobs again. A first violation could result in a maximum six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. A second offense carries a mandatory 90-day jail sentence.
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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