Illegal Advertisements Help CSLB Track Down Unlicensed Contractors
Consumers often rely on advertisements when looking for a contractor to work on their home improvement projects. Whether an advertisement is found online, on the side of a vehicle, or on a business card, it is important to verify that contractor is legitimate and properly licensed. Investigators from the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) used illegal advertisements to help them catch 14 suspected unlicensed operators during an undercover sting operation in Los Angeles County, last week.
On May 10- 11, 2017, investigators with CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) teamed up with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office and the Department of Consumer Affairs Division of Investigation to set up a sting at a single-family home near the Aliso Canyon in Northridge. Investigators compiled a list of leads by searching through online advertisements and collecting business cards from local home improvement stores. Posing as homeowners, investigators invited suspected unlicensed contractors to bid on construction jobs. Bids ranged from $700 for interior painting to $8,500 for installing new paving stones.
Each person who allegedly placed a bid exceeding the legal threshold was given a citation for contracting without a license (Business and Professions Code (BPC) section (§) 7028). A state contractor license is required if the quoted value of the construction materials and/or labor is $500 or higher. First-conviction penalties for unlicensed contracting include up to six months in jail and/or up to $5,000 in fines. Penalties are more severe with each successive violation. A second conviction carries a mandatory sentence of 90 days in jail.
Twelve of the 14 suspects caught during the sting were given an additional citation for their illegal advertisements (BPC §7027.1). State law requires that unlicensed contractors state in all advertisements that they are not licensed. Licensed contractors are also required to include their CSLB-issued license number in their advertisements.
“With today’s technology, it is easy for people to make very professional looking websites, business cards, and other forms of advertisements,” said CSLB Registrar David Fogt. “But the only way to be sure that a contractor is working legally is to verify their license number with CSLB.”
Advertisements are not limited to newspapers, online bulletin boards, or radio and television commercials. They also include:
· Business cards;
· Social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.);
· Referral Websites (Angie’s List, Contractor Connection, etc.);
· Any contract proposal;
· Lettering on trucks and other vehicles;
· Any sign or billboard identifying a person or company as a contractor;
· Any electronic transmission, including the company’s website content;
· Any soliciting brochure, pamphlet, circular, or Internet posted or distributed;
· Any clothing or giveaway items that include the company name or logo; and
· Any directory or listing that states or implies an individual is requesting or looking for the kind of work that requires a contractor license under California Contractors License Law.
Consumers are encouraged to report any unlicensed contractor who is advertising illegally by completing an advertising complaint form and mailing it to their nearest CSLB office.