Thursday, November 18, 2010

When obtaining services online, buyer beware

I saw a recent police report of a Northland man who stopped by one of our stations to report he'd been scammed by someone he hired from Craigslist. The man said he was looking for someone to do some work on his house and found someone on the online classified site. He met up with a man on October 4, who asked for $250 in payment up front for the work. The victim paid him, but the man never came back to do the work, and he won't return the victim's phone calls.

The internet has opened up a whole new world to scammers everywhere. To keep from getting scammed when hiring someone for a service, it's best to use some tried and true methods. Ask them for references of past jobs they've done. If they're reputable and really want your business, they'll gladly give them to you. Also, you can check with the Secretary of State to see if they're registered as a business and not some fly-by-night scam artist. Here's the link to the Missouri Secretary of State's business search web site.

Many legitimate contractors will ask for money up front to buy supplies and/or secure a deposit (although asking for the entire sum of the job up front is unusual, but not necessarily a sign of scamming). The rub with a lot of these cases is that they're considered a civil matter. To prosecute such a case criminally, we must prove the intent to deprive or deceive without any doubt. In a case like the aforementioned one, even if the two parties had agreed on a date in writing when the work was to be done, and it wasn't done by that date, a prosecutor could consider it a civil matter. So to save yourself time, money, and hassle, do your homework in advance before hiring anyone you find online or anywhere else.

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