Phony Contractors Seeing Double in Central Valley
State Contractors Board Conducts Dual Sting Operations
Sacramento — It was a bad week for illegal contractors in Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties. More than a dozen would-be contractors showed up to make bids on home improvement projects in Waterford on Wednesday (June 14) and Stockton on Thursday (June 15), but were nabbed instead by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) for unlicensed and unlawful activity.
Members of the CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) posed as homeowners and invited suspected unlicensed contractors to sting houses to bid on various home improvement projects that included landscaping, tree trimming and concrete work. The Stockton sting targeted HVAC (Heating & Air) repair people. The enforcement action was done in cooperation with local district attorney offices. When the phony contractors bid over the $500 legal limit allowed for unlicensed activity they were rewarded with a citation.
During this week's stings, 12 operators were given a "Notices to Appear" (NTA) before their local County Superior Court to answer misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license and for advertising violations. The charges carry a maximum of six months in jail or a $1,000 fine for the first offense. A second violation carries a mandatory 90-day jail sentence.
|Waterford, June 14, 2006||SWIFT, Stanislaus Co. District Attorney's Office||11 NTA's, 3 non-License cites|
|Stockton, June 15, 2006 (near E. Main)||SWIFT, San Joaquin Co. District Attorney's Office, Stockton P.D.||1 NTA, 2 Licensee Cites, 1 non-License cite, 2 arrests, 2 warnings|
By law, all contractors who perform work that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must be licensed by the CSLB. "The individuals targeted in this sting operation were the subject of previous complaints, repeat offenders or blatant violators," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Homeowners need to be aware that unlicensed contractors can pose serious safety and financial problems."
The CSLB conducts sting operations on an almost weekly basis, is to highlight the dangers to consumers who hire unlicensed workers, and to educate unlicensed workers about California laws. In this operation, investigators were targeting repeat offenders, subjects of complaints and blatant violators of advertising law. Contractors need to say if they are unlicensed or have their license number on their ad if they hold a valid California contractors license.
Before hiring any contractor, homeowners should go online or call CSLB's automated phone system to verify that he/she holds 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 a written contract; and
- 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 302,000 contractors, and investigates more than 20,000 complaints against contractors annually. In fiscal year 2004-05, the CSLB helped consumers get more than $36 million in restitution.
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