CSLB Sting Uses Craigslist to Target Phony Contractors in Ventura County
Ten arrested on illegal contracting charges; Board backs legislation to limit deceptive ads
SACRAMENTO — While many consumers seeking home improvement work turn to online resources to find a contractor, so do investigators from the California Contractors State License Board (CSLB) when they search for illegal contractors. The strategy again paid off during an undercover sting operation August 19, 2014, in the Thousand Oaks area, where eight of the 10 individuals arrested on illegal contracting charges were contacted through craigslist.org advertisements.
The sting was set up at a two-story Newbury Park home by CSLB Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) investigators, who were assisted in the operation by members of the Thousand Oaks Police Department. Investigators scanned craigslist ads to develop a list of potential suspects, as well as a sting file with consumer and contractor tips and leads from the area.
All nine who were invited to make bids at the sting house showed up. However, 10 Notices To Appear (NTAs) in superior court were issued because one of the unlicensed operators brought a partner who also was cited.
Bids were requested for kitchen cabinet replacement, tree trimming, and painting projects, and ranged from $1,235 to $14,000, far in excess of the $500 limit allowed by state contracting laws. Business and Professions Code section 7028(a) sets a $500 threshold for combined labor and/or material costs, after which a contractor license is required.
People who list their services with online bulletin boards, such as craigslist, frequently ignore contracting and advertising laws (Business and Professions Code section 7027.1(a)). State law requires contractors to place their license number in all print, broadcast, and online advertisements. Those without a license can advertise for jobs valued at less than $500, but the ad must state that they are not a licensed contractor.
CSLB is sponsoring legislation to curb advertising abuses. Under Senate Bill 315, introduced by state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, unlicensed contractors could only advertise their services for projects totaling less than $500, and state in the ad that they do not hold a California contractor license. The legislation is intended to stop individuals who promote themselves as handymen from taking on major projects such as kitchen and bathroom remodeling that typically can cost thousands of dollars and requires a contractor license. SB 315 is expected to soon reach the desk of Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.
Lawmakers recognize there is a problem with unlicensed contractors who advertise for work that they are not legally able to do, said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. We think SB 315 can make a big impact by cutting down on these deceptive ads.
All 10 suspects were cited for contracting without a license; nine face an additional misdemeanor charge of illegal advertising. Two of those cited previously held contractor licenses that were revoked by CSLB for disciplinary reasons.