SWIFT Justice, Stings and Consumer HVAC Alert

Like everything else, illegal contractors have become ‘hi-tech’ in their pursuit of unlicensed work. Consumers looking for deals online may find sorting the ‘good’ guys from among the unlicensed criminals will take more than a quick ‘search.’ While consumers may get a low price, the people they bring into their homes may not be worth the cost…


According to the CSLB, nearly 100 people may face criminal charges after being caught in 14 simultaneous statewide undercover sting operations conducted in mid-July.  Among those arrested during the Contractor’s Board “Summer California Blitz” were 11 repeat offenders, four sex offenders, four suspects with active arrest warrants, four suspects on probation, two former CSLB licensees, and a woman who received widespread media attention last year as a so-called “Sweetheart Swindler.”


According to CSLB Registrar Steve Sands, “It’s particularly disturbing how many of the suspects we targeted turned out to be convicted criminals, many with a history of violent crimes and drugs”.


Investigators from Board’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) partnered with a variety of local law enforcement agencies to conduct the operations at homes in Apple Valley (San Bernardino County), Artesia (Los Angeles County), Atascadero (San Luis Obispo County), Bakersfield (Kern County), Corona (Riverside County), Los Banos (Merced County), Rocklin (Placer County), and South Lake Tahoe (El Dorado County).


The SWIFT program is active year-round and has stopped a number of illegal operators looking to skirt the law.  Properly licensed contractors are adversely impacted because these same unlicensed individuals likely do not pay employment taxes, carry no Worker’s Comp insurance and give the construction industry a bad rap.


The CSLB also stated most of those caught this week were identified through “illegal ads they posted on craigslist.org”.  Blitz totals may increase as some suspects are expected to provide their bids to undercover investigators via email or fax at a later date.


Also, The CSLB recently released a consumer alert to warn homeowners about deceptive home improvement offers, particularly in relation to the HVAC industry.    Recently there have been a significant number of complaints with regards to contractors using illegal tactics to up-sell unneeded equipment and services.  “Many of the complaints CSLB is receiving are from older adults who are falling victim to unscrupulous operators who make promises of low-cost equipment services over the phone, only to have onsite technicians make false statements that persuade them to increase their purchase.”

The CSLB is taking action to put a stop to these dishonest individuals by hosting conferences and educational HVAC workshops to remind contractors about California’s service and repair contract laws and requirements.  They have also partnered with local District Attorneys, the Better Business Bureau, and HVAC industry leaders to identify the individuals who are damaging their reputation.

CSLB asks that homeowners be wary about low cost home improvement offers that may not be what they seem.  Property owners should always ask for a license number, check the number on the CSLB’s website to make sure the license is in good standing, get a second opinion from a different licensed contractor, and talk to your utility company to verify the accuracy of the costs of the offer.