Home Repair Ripoffs Exposed

The first time she talked with her contractor, Ann Youtsey knew just how vulnerable she was.

"These are his exact words, 'Obviously Ann, you know nothing about construction,' and I said, 'You're right,'" says Youtsey.

Youtsey paid $23,000 for a sunroom, a place to sit for her husband John, who has Parkinson's disease. But, as CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone reports, all they got was an unfinished foundation.

"In a way I thought this will never happen to me, this couldn't happen to me, I don't have anything to lose," says Youtsey.

By all accounts the contractor, Bob Dingman, is a master salesman.

When CBS News tried to talk to him, Dingman refused, saying only, "I cannot talk to you."

Dozens of people in the Seattle area trusted him with their homes and their money.

For a year and a half, Bill Taylor's project sat unfinished.

"They said, 'We're getting to yours, you're next on the list,'" says Taylor. "Right!"

Eddie Smith got sunroom plans from Dingman and gave him a big check - $47,480, to be exact.

And that was the last time he saw Dingman.

Smith says he's gotten, "absolutely nothing."

Incredibly, no one can get their money back because Dingman has gone out of business.

"It's crazy that there's no protection for the consumer," says Vanessa Dunivan.

She and David Dunivan lost $38,000 on a kitchen remodel Dingman never finished.

"I want him marked and branded as a man who takes advantage of good people," says Dunivan.

Officials in Washington state finally caught up with Dingman. They took away his contractor's license and imposed the maximum fine of $1,000, which according to Patrick Woods, of the Washington Department of Labor and Industries, has not been paid.

Worse still, it turns out Dingman ran the same scam in southern California for a decade.

"How can we stop guys like this?" asks Ralph Mundia.

Dingman took thousands and thousands from customers like Ralph and Annie Mundia in California, where Dingman declared bankruptcy and had his contractor's license revoked.

"We have no knowledge of the individual outside of the state," says Woods.

There's no system to track contractors from state to state, so officials say consumers should always protect themselves by getting several bids and not paying until work is done.

As CBS News discovered with a hidden camera, Dingman is back at work, selling siding for another contractor.

Cheating customers may not be a crime, but cheating the government is. So far, the only charges filed against Dingman are for tax evasion.

"Yes, the state of Washington wants their money. But you know what? I'd love to have my money," says Dunivan.

But getting a refund from Dingman seems as likely as getting an answer.

On CBS News' The Early Show, Danny Lipford, host of "Today's Homeowner," shows you how to protect yourself from unscrupulous contractors.