We pretty regularly find ourselves blogging about small business owners that draw people into scams. We’ve seen the would-be movie executive, the sweet-talking investment solicitor, the landscaper and the produce company owner. Too often, we find that defrauded consumers and investors could have avoided their losses by doing some basic due diligence. Sometimes the diligence can be as simple as a Google search, while other times it might pay to get an investigator involved.
Not surprisingly, we came across two stories this week and now add a roofing contractor and appliance repair store to our list of alleged (and some convicted) fraudsters.
Michigan roofer Kenneth Bird’s scheme was nothing out of the ordinary. According to media reports, he took deposits for roofing work from potential clients and then never showed up to actually do the work. He pleaded guilty to defrauding one couple of $6,125 for a $12, 250 roofing job he never completed at their home. Colorado appliance repair store, AAAA TV Electronics Vacuum Appliance, allegedly over-charged customers for parts that they did not need, did not receive and some that did not even exist.
So how do you avoid losing money to these kinds of businesses? In both of these cases, a quick Google search might have done the trick. The Better Business Bureau had received numerous complaints about each of these companies, a tally of which was readily available on the internet. In addition, a “Ripoff Report” was posted online about the appliance store and both businesses had some fairly negative reviews on yelp.com. We tend to be very cautious when relying on internet information. Most of the time, you don’t know who is behind a Yelp review, Ripoff Report or Better Business Bureau complaint, and not everything you read online is true. That said, when there are a large number of complaints and/or troublesome reviews online about one company, it should at least give you pause before choosing them for your vacuum repair or roofing needs.
Beyond basic Google searching, it can pay to hire an investigator to go further than what’s available online. We’ve blogged here about why Google should not be a substitute for thinking and we know from experience that most public records are not available on the internet. As investigators, we use a whole range of ethical techniques to gather balanced information about people and companies. This puts our clients in the position of feeling protected against the many fraudsters and scam artists that are out there.