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Major fraud sting targets unlicensed contractors in Utah

The state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing executed a three-week statewide sting operation targeting unlicensed contractors advertising online.
The state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing executed a three-week statewide sting operation targeting unlicensed contractors advertising online.
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SALT LAKE CITY — The state Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing executed a three-week statewide sting operation targeting unlicensed contractors advertising online and on social media.

The Utah investigation was part of a national effort in conjunction with the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies, whose member states include Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Utah.

State investigators looked into 178 cases and issued 96 citations for unlicensed activity, levying fines totaling $543,000, a news release stated.

“Unlicensed contractors hurt homeowners and business owners with fraud, shoddy work and liability issues, as well as taking away business from Utah licensees who follow the law, “ said Francine Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce.

As part of an ongoing yearly effort, investigators focused much of this year’s sting on targeting unlicensed activity across online resources, including classified ads and social media, she explained. Last month, the division’s investigation team issued 96 citations for unlawful activity, she said.

"This year's sting operation sent investigators across the Beehive State to make sure unlicensed activity, whether in urban or rural areas, was addressed to protect the public," said Mark Steinagel, director of the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing. “The (division) takes all forms of fraud seriously as it harms legitimate licensed professionals, Utah businesses, consumers and our state economy.”

How to choose a licensed contractor

Consumers should be aware that internet boards and online classified ads may invite deceptive business opportunities. The following tips offer steps to take when seeking a bid for contracting work and how to protect the public from contractor fraud.

• Verify the contractor or business is actively licensed with the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.

• Hiring a licensed contractor ensures the ability to file a complaint if something goes wrong.

• Request multiple written estimates before choosing a contractor.

• Verify at least three references from former customers.

• Confer with materials suppliers to inquire which contractors or companies they might recommend.

• To protect yourself and your property against liens, always require a written contract.

• Avoid making large payments before work is completed. Pay as predetermined milestones are met.

• Monitor the job in progress.

• Do not make the final payment until the job is completed per the terms of your contract.

• Be sure to keep copies of all related paperwork.

For more information, to file a complaint, verify the license of a professional or inquire about previous disciplinary action, visit dopl.utah.gov. Additional information is also available on the Utah Division of Consumer Protection's website at dcp.utah.gov.