MONTECITO - Not long after the mudslides, NewsChannel 3 rode along with undercover officers from the Contractors State License Board through parts of Montecito to observe their primary goal of informing homeowners and stopping crooks.
It's difficult to imagine people would prey on survivors who just lost their home in the Thomas Fire or mudslides, but they're out there.
"I have clients in this neighborhood and they said they are already being poached and approached by contractors they've never heard of before," said Jennifer Shaw with Reed Interiors as she walked through the mudslide zone near Olive Mill and Jameson.
One neighborhood that's buzzing with the sounds of renewal is located in the Santa Elena, Santa Clara and Santo Tomas area. We met up with the undercover officers there because the streets were lined with work trucks and construction equipment. The rules were simple, we were not allowed to show their faces and the vehicles they were driving.
"We'll give you a business card so that if you guys are coming across unlicensed advertisements and contractors and stuff, give us a call," said an undercover officer to a homeowner who was working in her driveway clearing away mud.
The team consisted of three officers from the Contractors State License Board, one investigator from the District Attorney's Office and an undercover police officer assigned to protect all of them.
They observed, spoke with a few contractors and posted signs warning homeowners to be on the lookout for unlicensed contractors.
"Call us, we're all over," said another undercover officer to a different homeowner as she handed him a business card.
The officers also started organizing a strong network of homeowners and licensed contractors to be their eyes and ears. When someone suspicious starts snooping around they want people in these areas to call them right away.
"I think it's great, we want to protect our community. We're out here with Habitat for Humanity and want to bring our community back and rebuild and so having them supporting us and protecting homeowners is a great thing," said John Peterson CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Southern Santa Barbara County.
With so much activity around them and confusion over what to do next, homeowners in the devastated areas can be easy prey.
"You're totally desperate. A lot of contractors are busy, local ones, so people will be coming in from out of town. Unfortunately, some of those people are not very ethical," said Jennifer Shaw.
That's why state investigators will be in Montecito for a long time. But you may not know who they are. This group of investigators had been working in the Ventura area where hundreds of homes burned down and they did catch people operating illegally there.
To check a contractor and contact the Contractor State License Board if you see something suspicious click here.