Thursday, April 18, 2013

Avoid Getting Ripped Off By Contractors, Vendors, or Other Businesses

Whether we'd like to admit it or not, know it or not, we all have been, or will be scammed.  From shoddy work, to work never performed, there's an opportunist out there wanting to make a fast buck.  I will discuss a few tips that you can use to help prevent being the victim of fraud, and, what you can do afterwards if you feel you have been victimized.

First, if the contractor is unknown to you, do a check on Angie's List, which is an online repository of trusted contractors that have been vetted by customers.  Think of it as crowd-sourced reviews, like Yelp, etc.  There's a cost, however, which is why I haven't joined yet.  Still, if you plan to have a lot of work done with multiple vendors, it might be worth a limited membership.

Second, the always free Better Business Bureau, provides both accredited and unaccredited business listings.  The BBB has been around for decades and provides excellent background checks on companies.  And, any complaints about them might be posted here.

Third, check with friends, family, or neighbors.  Have they heard of this contractor?  Did they have work performed?  What was their experience?  A trusted opinion from someone you know is even better than any online review.  Bonus tip: can you see the work performed?

Fourth, the web, of course.  Doing relatively simple Google searches could lead to red flags.  Does the address look valid?  Street Maps can help.  Is there a website?  We know that a business is much more than just a website, but if they don't have one, some caution is warranted. 

Fifth, pay with a credit card.  Credit card companies will usually take the brunt of a fraud claim in the event that you are taken for a ride.  Pay with cash, you will never see it again.  Pay with a check, there may be some recourse, as at least there's a paper trail of sorts, but don't hold your breath.

Sixth, don't pay in full.  Half down, half later.

Now that we have taken some basic precautions, let's discuss what happens if you are a victim.  

First, depending on the severity of the issue, file a police report.  You may not be able to get your money back, but you can be a good citizen and help prevent further crime.  Plus, banks, for example, might not move on something until they have proof that the fraud occurred.  If one takes the time to file a police report and risk legal trouble if falsified, it's pretty much a sure-bet the crime happened.

Second, in addition to filing a police report, document everything!  Times, dates, places.  Any sort of paper trail that you might be able to build.  Are they on the web?  Did they create any sort of invoice or other tracking document?  Again, even the tiniest scrap of data could lead to clues on how to stop someone cold.

Third, if you used a credit card, call up the credit card company and report the fraud.  You might have to cancel your cards out of a precaution, too.  A pain, but definitely worth the hassle.

Fourth, file with the BBB.  Put the word out that the 'perps are bad news.  You may not get paid back, but you can "pay it forward" and help someone else.

Fifth, put it out on the web.  Sites like Yelp are great.  For travel-related experiences, Trip Advisor is great.

Sixth, relax.  Own up that you got scammed and just take it as a lesson learned.  "Fool Me Once, Shame On  You.  Fool Me Twice, Shame On Me."

--The Edge