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Utah cracks down on unlicensed contractors

KUTV Facebook Fraud Gunther 070617.JPG

(KUTV ) It’s a matter of supply and demand. There are lots of construction projects that need doing and not enough contractors in Utah to attack all the work as quickly as some may like.

It’s left the door open to some not-so-legitimate contractors to take advantage, say state regulators, who have been cracking down.

Utah’s division of occupational and professional licensing took part in an aggressive action aimed at protecting Utah consumers from contractors who may not be on the up and up. In June, Utah was part of a multi-state sting on unlicensed contractors. They found the contractors through their advertisements online, in classified ads and and social media websites.

"We were able to issue 45 citations during that sting, for $23,000 in fines," says DOPL director Mark Steinagel.

The money will go into Utah’s general fund.

The money is nice, but Steinagal says he hopes the citations will result in fewer unlicensed contractors working in Utah. Statistically, he says, a licensed contractor is far less likely to take a down-payment and run before work is completed.

That’s a problem Kevin Richardson found himself facing after hiring a contractor who gave him the name Jim Gunther.

“My wife found him on Facebook,” he said. “She told me he had some good reviews."

Richardson paid $2,700 as a down-payment for a deck and awning. Work commenced but it didn't last.

"He put the two posts in for the patio but that's as far as he got," Richardson said.

Richardson asked for a refund and he says Gunther agreed but then never showed up on the agreed upon date with the cash. Now he seems to have vanished.

Gunther is not licensed to be a contractor in the state of Utah.

"We messed up. We didn't thoroughly investigate him before we hired him," Richardson said.

Frustrated, Richardson contacted Get Gephardt.

Get Gephardt was also contacted by Kristen Aaron, who hired Gunther to rebuild her deck, paying him $3,600. Some work was done but it wasn’t completed and Gunther disappeared.

“I think he is defrauding people for money,” she said.

Aaron also found Gunther through a Facebook ad.

"He's all over Facebook and social media," she said.

Also on social media are warnings from people who reportedly paid Gunther money for work that was not completed.

Get Gephardt reached out to Gunther through Facebook but got no response and his phone no longer connects.

DOPL is now seeking criminal charges against Gunther based on what happened to Richardson and Aaron, Steinagel said.

"He had no problem basically stealing from people," he said.

That could mean refunds for his alleged victims, one day, but it doesn’t help with the partially completed projects in their yard that they’ll now need to pay a different contractor to finish.

Both Richardson and Aaron say, next time, they’ll check with DOPL to ensure who they hire is licensed.

Steinagel says, in the past, they've heard largely from the older generations about being scammed. But because of the increase in contractors using social media and classifieds sites to advertise, they're also seeing a rise in millennials and gen-xers getting taken.

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