Undercover Sting Highlights Danger to Riverside County Seniors Who Hire Unlicensed Contractors
Contractors State License Board operation sends four to court for contracting without a licenseSACRAMENTO —A handful of unlicensed operators were caught in an undercover sting operation conducted in Riverside County this week by the Contractors State License Board’s (CSLB) Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT). The sting was conducted with the assistance of the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office in the gated Sun City retirement community on February 2, 2011.
During the sting SWIFT investigators invited the suspected phony contractors to submit bids for jobs, including a new concrete front walkway, the widening of a bedroom door for wheelchair access, removal and replacement of tile flooring, and interior painting. Four individuals who submitted bids of more than $500 received a Notice to Appear in court for contracting without a license and illegal advertising.
"This operation should serve as a wake-up call to California seniors," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Our investigators who routinely handle construction complaints find that unlicensed, unscrupulous individuals often prey on seniors and, in some cases, rip off thousands of dollars from them for completing very little or no work."
California Business and Professions Code (§7027.1 and §7028) requires that all home improvement work valued at $500 or more for labor and materials be done by a state-licensed contractor. Contractors are required to display their license number in all advertisements. People without contractor licenses may advertise to do work valued at less than $500, but their ads must state that they are not a licensed contractor.
CSLB has a number of valuable resources consumers can review, including the brochure What Seniors Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor. This and all CSLB publications can be ordered or downloaded from CSLB’s website.
CSLB urges California consumers to follow these tips before hiring a home improvement contractor:
- Verify the contractor's license online at www.cslb.ca.gov, www.CheckTheLicenseFirst.com or by calling CSLB’s automated phone system at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752).
- Ask to see a photo identification to verify the contractor’s identity.
- Be especially wary of door-to-door solicitations to do a job quickly, at a reduced price. Many transient criminals will often charge more than the original price quoted for poor-quality work.
- Don’t fall for high pressure sales tactics, which make it impossible to solicit competitive bids and check for proper licensure and references.
- Be cautious about scare tactics, such as offers of a free home inspection that supposedly uncover faulty wiring, bad plumbing or a leaky roof. These claims often lead to unnecessary and over-priced work.
- Don't pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whichever is less. There is an exception to this rule for about two dozen contractors who purchase special bonds and are noted on CSLB’s website.
- Don't pay in cash, and don't let the payments get ahead of the work. Some scam artists will go so far as to drive their victims to the bank, take the money, and then abandon the project.
- Get at least three bids and insist on a written contract before your project begins. Make sure your contract clearly communicates your expectations and that you understand the contract terms before you sign it.
The following suspects are scheduled for arraignment on April 28, 2011, at the Riverside Hall of Justice at 4100 Main Street in Riverside:
|SUSPECT NAME & CITY||AGE||LICENSE
|Sione M. Ahonima
|38||Concrete||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising|
|63||Concrete||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising|
|44||Tile||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising|
|Juan M Borquez
|45||Painting||Contracting without a license, illegal advertising|
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. More information and publications about hiring contractors are available on the CSLB website or by calling 800-321-CSLB (2752). You can also sign up for CSLB e-mail alerts, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook. CSLB licenses and regulates California's more than 300,000 contractors, and is regarded as one of the leading consumer protection agencies in the United States. In fiscal year 2009-10, CSLB helped recover nearly $42 million in ordered restitution for consumers.
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