An undercover sting operation nabbed seven suspects accused of illegal advertising and contracting without a license in Grass Valley, California. The Contractors State License Board (CSLB), part of the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs, conducted the operation in conjunction with the office of the Nevada County District Attorney.

Investigators, posing as homeowners, called businesses that had advertised contract work in newspapers and online. They sought bids for home improvement projects including tree removal, deck reconstruction, and landscaping jobs. All bids exceeded the legal limit before a state contractor license is required.

The seven suspects were issued Notices to Appear in superior court. First-time unlicensed contracting convictions can lead to stiff fines and jail time up to six months. CSLB Registrar Cindi Christenson said that the operation serves as a stark reminder to homeowners. She urges residents to “always check with CSLB to make sure the people they’re considering for home improvement projects are licensed, and in good standing with the CSLB.”

Nevada County District Attorney Clifford Newell also praised the work of the investigative fraud team. “These undercover sting operations can help level the playing field for licensed contractors and curb the multi-billion dollar underground economy that endangers the public,” he said.

CSLB licenses and regulates 285,000 contractors in California. Consumers can check licenses online or through a toll-free automated line.