Consumers warned against hiring unlicensed contractors online

June 20, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Need some work done at your home? Be careful who you contact and hire online. A consumer watchdog agency is warning people to stay away from unlicensed contractors who are advertising "at will" on the Internet.

After conducting eight undercover stings that netted 100 arrests throughout the state last week, the California Contractors State License Board is teaming up with other states to issue a national alert to consumers who use online ads, mainly from Craigslist, to hire someone to do work around the house.

States have been trying to get Craigslist to help crack down on illegal contractors who use the site to solicit jobs.

"They've been unresponsive, and so it's gotten to the point where it's important for us and it's our obligation to notify consumers that there's a real risk if you do use this," said Rick Lopes, spokesman for the Contractors License Board.

Craigslist did not respond to an email request for comment, but in the past the company has taken down suspicious ads at the state's request and added a mandatory field for people to put in their contractor's license number. But anyone can just type in anything and consumers can be duped.

Howard Blum fell for one of the ads after needing the roof of his rental fixed. Pictures show that's not exactly what he got for almost $10,000 from a contractor using someone else's license.

"Unfortunately, I hooked up with an unsavory character who defrauded me, conned me and ripped me off for a bunch of money," said Blum.

Contractors with licenses are insured and go through a background check. Without insurance, homeowners are liable for workers who get hurt on their property.

The sting also shows it pays to know who you're inviting over.

"One of the people that we caught was a convicted murderer," said Lopes. "We also caught two registered sex offenders. And that's not unusual."

The state has set up a website called CheckTheLicenseFirst.com, enabling you to confirm your contractor is legitimate. But call the holder of that license to make sure he knows it's being used.


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