If it sounds too good to be true... you know the story - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Money

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If it sounds too good to be true... you know the story

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Posted: Monday, March 4, 2013 8:33 am

It happened about two months ago.

My photographer, producer and I confronted a mechanic outside his West Valley car shop.

Dozens of people said they paid him to restore their cars; and while the mechanic took the money, they say he didn’t do the job.

Some showed me pictures of their cars with scratches and missing parts. Each say they paid thousands of dollars for subpar or very little work.

I’ve tracked down dozens of people. Sometimes I get answers.

Unfortunately, our meeting with this mechanic ended as many had before. The man, surprised, probably because of that big camera, retreated. He went into his garage, closed the door, and made no comment.

That might have been it. But, a few days later he answered an email I had sent. He blamed the people who hired him. He said he’s getting out of the business and then said, “You get what you pay for.”

Wow. Not a profound statement. And, it makes him look pretty bad.

But, it got me thinking: How many times have I seen people get taken when they chose the lowest price?

This man advertised on Craigslist. Some victims said his fee was less than half of the estimates they got from others.

Hey, I’m guilty. I get the three estimates we should all get before hiring anyone, and yeah, many times I go for the best deal.

But in this case, there were other warning signs that could have kept a lot of people from losing a lot of money.

First of all, a basic Internet search using the owner and business name would have shown plenty of complaints. If customers looked further, Ripoffreport.com and the Better Business Bureau also showed negative comments.

When they hired this man, he wanted about half the money up front. Folks, this might be the biggest warning. Too many times, victims tell me the business demanded huge payments up front and then took off.

And out of the customers I talked with, only one actually had a written contract with the business. This guy didn’t put anything in writing.

So, think about it. If you ever wanted to sue later, or prove what you paid and what you didn’t get, how could you?

Contracts written with payments tied to progress are crucial before you hire anyone.

Now, I’m not blaming the customers here.

No one should have to pay to get their cars towed away because the mechanic was evicted.

No one should find their car in pieces months after paying or have missing parts. Those things happened here.

If you pay $6,000 for a job to be completed, then the business should complete the job. And in many of these cases, it appears this one did not.

But, despite numerous complaints to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and other law enforcement, nothing was done to stop this man.

So, I offer this story as an example. It’s true, “The best defense, is a strong offense.” In cases where you hire anyone, you must keep a close eye on the warning signs. And while I try to stay away from overused phrases, here’s another one you really should live by, “If it sounds too good be true, it probably is.”

• ABC15 Investigator Joe Ducey is Arizona’s consumer alert expert. Watch his reports weekdays on ABC15 at 5 p.m. and 10 p.m., and email him with questions or news tips anytime at jducey@abc15.com.

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