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Utah Nabs Unlicensed Contractors in Multi-State Sting

PHOTO: Undertaking a home remodel in Utah requires a licensed contractor. Photo credit: iStockphoto.
PHOTO: Undertaking a home remodel in Utah requires a licensed contractor. Photo credit: iStockphoto.
September 21, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY – This month, investigators posing as homeowners in Utah and seven other states got bids for construction and handyman services from people they found on the Internet. In just one week, 21 were cited in two Utah counties – Davis and Washington – as part of the sting to catch unlicensed contractors.

Mark Steinagel, who heads the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, says it's a new approach for his agency, which typically stays busy responding to complaints about contractors.

"So, I think that it was pretty ripe with people who thought that they could just forever act unlicensed, advertise unlicensed - and unless we happened upon their job site, they would be fine."

Steinagel says the contractors who were cited often bid larger amounts than the jobs would warrant. He says the other states involved in the sting – including Arizona, California, Nevada and Oregon – already share information about home improvement scams and other problems.

Licensing involves a lot more than the contractor paying a fee. In Utah, the state checks their criminal record and financial background, as well as their qualifications to do the types of work they're advertising. In that way, Steinagel says they're doing some of the customer's legwork and providing them some protection against fraud.

"We still encourage people to check references and look at other work, and be careful when entering into a contract, not pay too much money up front. But you really get started well if you ensure the person is licensed."

He says it is easy to check a contractor's license online anytime, at dopl.utah.gov. He notes that most contractors operate by the book, although earlier this year, one was sent to prison for defrauding about 20 Utah homeowners, taking their money for custom cabinetry that was not delivered.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - UT