CSLB Goes Undercover to Sting Phony Contractors in Amador County
Operation illustrates dangers to consumers who hire contractors who aren't licensed
Sacramento — Illegal operators who showed up at a sting house in Jackson this week were swept up by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) and arrested for contracting without a license. Members of the CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) posed as homeowners and invited suspected phony contractors to a duplex to bid on various home improvement projects, including landscaping, painting, concrete work and fencing. The enforcement action was conducted on Wednesday, May 30 in cooperation with the Amador County District Attorney's Office and investigators from the California Department of Insurance, Fraud Division and the Jackson Police Department.
During the undercover sting, 11 of the phony contractors were given a "Notices to Appear" (NTA) before an Amador County Superior Court judge in late June to face misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license, as well as 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. Three of the operators were taken to jail, one for attempting to use a licensed contractor's number. The other two did not have any valid identification. Two operators were given a non-licensee citation. A licensed contractor will receive a citation for aiding and abetting unlicensed activity.
By law, all contractors who perform work that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must be licensed by the CSLB. "Unlicensed operators often have a lot of other legal problems," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Homeowners may think they are saving money by hiring someone who is unlicensed. But you never know what kind of individuals you are inviting into your home and what their real motives are. You also don't know if they even know how to do the job."
"This investigation sends a message to law breakers that we are watching what they do and will prosecute when appropriate to protect law-abiding contractors and consumers," said Amador County District Attorney Todd D. Riebe.
The CSLB conducts sting operations on an almost weekly basis to highlight the dangers to consumers who hire unlicensed operators, and to educate those phony contractors about California laws.
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. By law, contractors are required to put their state license number in all advertising. If they are not licensed, it must say so in their ad. Unlicensed operators can only perform jobs that total less than $500 (labor and materials). Jobs cannot be split into smaller pieces to get under that limit.
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 307,000 contractors, and investigates more than 20,000 complaints against contractors annually. In fiscal year 2005-06, the CSLB helped consumers get more than $36 million in restitution.
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