HAYWARD -- Nine unlicensed contractors were busted in a sting this week after submitting illegal home improvement bids, state investigators said.

The operation was conducted Wednesday by investigators posing as owners of a house in Hayward. The nine people cited had advertised online, on fliers and in local publications without listing a contractor license number that is required by law in every ad, said Steve Breen of the Contractors State License Board.

The sting was one of scores that board investigators conduct each year.

"Our investigators look around the house and come up with a laundry list of projects," he said. "They call those people and invite them to come to a sting house, which is typically a commercial building or a private residence that somebody has offered for the sting."

Of the 10 people who showed up to the Hayward house, nine submitted written bids and were cited, Breen said. The lone person who did not bid apparently had a good reason.

"He had been cited at a July sting operation in Contra Costa County and recognized the investigators and backed out," Breen said.

It's not unusual for contractors to continue operating illegally even after being cited, he said.

"We'll do a sting operation in Fremont, for example, and then a few months later one in Hayward, and the same people show up," Breen said.

The nine cited Wednesday -- from Hayward, Fremont, Oakland, Suisun and Citrus Heights -- face misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license, which carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and up to $5,000 if convicted, and of illegal advertising. They are scheduled to appear in court in Hayward on Jan. 13.


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Before hiring a contractor, consumers should check the license out by going to www.cslb.ca.gov or calling 1-800-321-2757, Breen said.

"Consumers should always get at least three bids and check all those people out on our website," Breen said. "It's super-easy, and it behooves them. It pays to spend a few minutes beforehand instead of paying thousands of dollars for substandard work. If they're licensed, you can feel safe that they have gone through training."

Workers can perform jobs valued at less than $500, but the ads must state they are not licensed contractors. The penalty is a fine of $700 to $1,000.

The Contractors State License Board conducts about one sting a week throughout the state, with blitzes in the spring and fall, when they cite an average of 80 to 100 contractors. Investigators often get assistance from the local district attorney's office or the sheriff's department, he said.

"These stings can turn up people who have pretty unsavory records. Some are parolees; some have active warrants," he said. "You're really taking your chances if you hire an unlicensed contractor."

Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.