Set up inside a Lakeland house for three days, police had little trouble drawing in unlicensed contractors in to do work.
“They are unlicensed for a reason. Can they really do the work they are saying they can do? You put someone in danger with fire and plumbing and other things like that,” said Capt. Brian McCoy with the Division of Insurance Fraud.
Most of the suspects advertise on websites like Craigslist.
The businesses have names like Helping Hands Law Service, Mr. Handy Solutions, and 1A Home Improvements. Some even carry business cards that say "licensed and insured."
Police got them on video giving estimates for various jobs. Then after confirming they were breaking the law, eight men were arrested..
Herbert Venegas Jr. had the most troubling resume.
His criminal history includes battery, sexual assault, and lewd lascivious battery on a child under 16.
Investigators said when you hire an unlicensed contractor the work can be inferior, not up to code, even a fire hazard.
You can also be overcharged.
“It’s very painful when you see somebody that’s lost thousands of dollars to an unlicensed contractor, especially when they are elderly,” said Dan Gargas with Lakeland’s Building Inspection Division.
There are many ways to protect yourself.
Always ask contractors to see a copy of their license and photo ID.
Ask for references that aren’t just their friends or families.
And look them up on myfloridalicense.com.
Customers aren’t the only ones hurt by those operating illegally.
“There are plenty of law abiding contractors that are out trying to make an honest living within our city, and they are also falling prey to those that are working unlicensed and who are not working up to the standard that they must meet,” said Lakeland Police Lt. Ed Cain.
Not everyone was breaking the law. Two of the contractors that showed up the sting were licensed.