David Guzman thought he was being careful when he hired a plumber advertising on Craigslist to install a new water heater in a property he owns in Temple City.
The plumber’s ad said he could provide discounts by selling floor models from Lowes and Home Depot. He had a very professional looking website, and his ads were in both Spanish and English.
But when the plumber arrived to do the job, Guzman noticed that all identifying labels had been removed from the water heater. The retiree became even more uncomfortable when the plumber demanded $380 in cash.
His suspicions were confirmed the next day, when the water heater began to leak. And the plumber refused to replace it.
Guzman was ripped off by an increasingly common scam, authorities said: contractors who pass themselves off as licensed, when they are really not.
Many, regulators say, are simply crooks.
Just last week, a convicted murderer and two registered sex offenders are among 100 people arrested for fraudulently claiming they were licensed contractors on sites like Craigslist, said Steve Sands, Registrar of the California Contractors State License Board.
Working with law enforcement agencies in eight cities in the state, the board set up a sting aimed at netting people who falsely advertise on the sites, or respond to consumers with fraudulent information.
“Unfortunately, hundreds, if not thousands, of unlicensed or unscrupulous contractors are breaking the law every day by posting deceptive or illegal ads,” Sands said in a news release on Wednesday.
He urged consumers to go to his agency's website before hiring any type of contractor. The site provides a way to search contractors by name and also by license number, and consumers can see whether the person they are thinking of hiring has a valid license.
Venus Stromberg, a spokeswoman for the board, said it’s also important for consumers to call after the fact, if they feel they’ve been cheated or treated improperly by a contractor.
Guzman, whose case is still being investigated, said he didn’t check out his plumber’s license until it was too late. After the man refused to replace the leaking, unmarked heater, Guzman went online, only to learn that the license number was a fake.
He went to a hardware store and spent another $400 on a new water heater, which he installed himself, the 62-year-old said.
“If you hire someone, check them out first,” Guzman said.