The same online bulletin-board ad sites that have become popular feeding grounds for fly-by-night contractors are now being used to reel them in, as a coordinated multistate crackdown recently showed.
Contractor licensing boards in seven states joined forces for a sting operation that netted some 180 suspected unlicensed contractors, including several painters.
Photos: California State Licensing Board
|State contractor licensing boards in seven states joined forces for a sting operation that netted some 180 suspected unlicensed individuals.|
Officials in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Utah executed the joint sting operation the week of Sept. 10.
The state regulatory boards responded to ads on Craigslist and similar ad websites for painting, plumbing, air conditioning and other home-improvement services, luring scores of unlicensed contractors to various “bait houses.”
Nationally Led Effort
The roundup was orchestrated by the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies (NASCLA), which is dedicated to “better regulation of the construction industry to protect health, welfare and safety of the general public.”
“The NASCLA National Sting Operation provided [an] exceptional platform for state licensing agencies from across the country to promote the health, welfare and safety of the general public,” said Craig Smith, the organization’s president.
“Cooperation between the states helped leverage limited state funds, which allow licensing agencies to better serve the public and address enforcement issues that cross state lines.”
The plan involved state public information departments, investigative departments, executive directors/officers, and the public media.
The effort was the latest in a national drive to curb unlicensed contractor nationwide and raise awareness to the problem, NASCLA said.
One of the purposes of the effort was to “deter illegal construction activity and level the playing field for legitimate contractors in the industry,” according to the organization.
By the Numbers
The participating states reported these results to NASCLA.
Arizona: The Arizona sting led to nine unlicensed-contractor investigations. The Arizona Registrar of Contractors said it routinely referred unlicensed contracting cases to the Maricopa County Attorney’s office for prosecution.
Bill Mundell, Arizona Registrar, called the multistate sting “a historic event. This combined effort demonstrates our shared commitment to protecting honest people from the harm caused by unlicensed contractors. In order to protect Arizonans, we vigorously enforce the unlicensed contractor laws.”
California: The California Contractors State License Board conducted three undercover sting operations that resulted in 36 notices to appear in court (misdemeanor criminal charges).
“While Craigslist serves as a valuable free tool for legitimately licensed and insured contractors, the number of illegal and deceptive ads are growing like wildfire,” said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. “As a result, it’s difficult— if not impossible—for consumers to figure out who’s legitimate and who isn’t.”
|Investigators and law enforcement officials set up “bait houses” and responded to online ads to lure the contractors.|
Two of those arrested were registered sex offenders, and a third had a felony conviction for statutory rape, according to the CSLB.
Nevada: The Nevada State Contractors Board sting resulted in 10 citations to suspected unlicensed contractors.
“Unlicensed contracting is a serious issue impacting states across the nation,” said Margi A. Grein, the board’s executive officer. “Of utmost concern is the health and safety of the public, who place their trust in individuals falsely claiming to be qualified and licensed by the state.”
Oregon: The Oregon Construction Contractors Board (CCB) conducted two undercover sting operations in the Salem and Bend areas. CCB field investigators wrote a total of 28 field proposed orders for bidding and advertising construction work and issued one warning, officials said.
“Oregon’s commitment to protecting consumers and level the playing field for legitimate contractors is critical in the agency’s mission,” says Craig P. Smith, CCB Administrator. “We want consumers to be aware that bulletin boards like craigslist.org do not monitor or verify postings for construction activities are from legitimately licensed contractors.”
Rhode Island: The Rhode Island Contractors’ Registration and Licensing Board issued six violations: four to non-registered contractors, one to a non-registered subcontractor, and one for failing to have workers’ compensation insurance in effect while hiring employees.
All violations resulted in tickets being issued with fines for performing work illegally, according to George Whalen, the agency’s executive director.
South Carolina: The South Carolina Office of Investigations and Enforcement (OIE) and the South Carolina Residential Builders Commission reviewed more than 200 Internet listings and patrolled home-center parking lots across the state to find contractors advertising a variety of building services requiring state licensure.
As a result, OIE opened 60 cases for unlicensed practice and practice beyond the scope of licensure. Another 10 cases are pending review.
“What we found in just one day further emphasizes our message that consumers need to be on alert any time they hire someone to do work to their homes,” said Janet Baumberger, administrator, Residential Builders Commission. “Make sure they are licensed by the state licensing board, and never pay the full cost of the work upfront.”
Utah: The Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL) issued 21 citations in its sting efforts.
“Based on the numerous high ticket bids received by our decoy homeowners, the public needs to make sure they work with licensed professionals to ensure your rights are protected under state law if the deal goes south,” said Mark Steinagel, DOPL Division director.
“Otherwise, you may end up paying twice for the same job when the phony contractor fails to deliver.”