When the lights went out in her Hayward home, Ruth Fernandez called American Electric for emergency repairs. "Right away, I knew I was scammed," declared the retired widow. "Right away I knew. When my son said, 'Mom, that's too much what you paid.' "
Ruth Fernandez paid more than $2,300 for a job that took just one hour and ten minutes. Adding insult to injury, one of her lights is still not working. The firm used more than a dozen different names, including American Home Repairs, 59 Minute Service and Love My Home, spending big bucks in yellow page advertising from San Diego to Sacramento to the Bay Area.
Investigators say parent company SRVS allegedly ripped off six thousand consumers across California every year for the past twenty years, raking in millions of dollars from bogus repairs.
"There's no evidence in the vast majority of cases that these people had certification," noted Rick Lopes of the Contractors State License Board. Lopes added, " They weren't qualified to be doing this work that they were out to do."
The Board set up a statewide sting operation to catch the predators in the act. In the surveillance video you can see one technician recommend $1600 worth of circuit breakers, which he just happens to be carrying in the back of his truck. Authorities say those circuit breakers were already used and probably lifted from other unsuspecting consumers.
The Board arrested at least half a dozen technicians in the sting. "They've been charged with unlicensed contracting activity," said David Fogt, the agency's chief enforcement officer. He added, "They've also been charged for misrepresentation of the work that needed to be done."
After taking the companies to court, the Board set up a restitution fund, with more than one million dollars for the victims. Ruth Fernandez will be one of the first to collect.
"I have very little left", she said. "Every little bit counts."
Any customers who were victimized by the home repair firms over the past four years may be eligible to get their money back. Consumers should call the Contractors Board at 1 (800) 321-CSLB, then press 7.