The biggest mistake I ever made as a consumer

Wild at Art/Shutterstock
Wild at Art/Shutterstock

Somewhere in the attic of my old house in Key Largo, Fla., a reminder of my biggest consumer mistake ever is collecting dust. I’ve never told anyone about it. Until now.

It’s a profoundly embarrassing tale of negligence and naivete — my own negligence and naivete. By revealing it today, I hope that I can persuade you to share your stories, and allow others to learn from them.

Here goes.

In 2003, shortly after our first son was born, my family lived happily in remote South Florida outpost known for amazing scuba diving and recreational fishing. But since I used the second bedroom as an office, our small home was starting to feel a little crowded. A neighbor suggested we build an addition to our house instead of moving, which seemed like a great idea.

The same neighbor referred me to a local architect who specialized in creating plans that were cost-effective and, most importantly, buildable. On Key Largo, the northernmost island in the ecologically fragile Florida Keys, you had to ask for permission from the county planning department before sneezing, and building permits could take months if you didn’t have the right connections.

This architect, we were promised, had connections.

We just wanted to add a bedroom or two to the house, nothing more. After an initial consultation, the architect passed us off to one of his associates, a nervous woman who rarely smiled. I spent what seemed like hours explaining what we wanted — something simple but buildable — and we worked through several drafts.

All along, the associate architect made disparaging comments about her employer. He was difficult to work for, she said. She really wanted to leave, but couldn’t find a better job. She told us she was profoundly unhappy. And it showed: The schematics were unimaginative and while they added to the home’s square footage, they did not make it more usable or aesthetically pleasing.

I began to grow suspicious when she handed me a bill for nearly $3,000 for the work so far, roughly twice her original estimate. I knew that professionals bill by the hour, but had wrongly assumed she would warn us if our costs went beyond the $1,500 she’d quoted for the plans.

So I stopped by the city’s permitting department one afternoon to find out if the architect’s assurances — that I could build this addition to my home — were correct.

“Absolutely not,” the woman at the permitting office said. Not now, she added, and not ever.

Not happy at all

Of course, I told the associate architect about my unhappiness with her bill, the quality of her work and the fact that the home was unbuildable. I said that I’d be willing to pay what we originally agreed for plans I liked and that the county could approve.

That didn’t go over very well.

A few days later, I received an angry letter from her boss, informing me that unless I paid my $3,000 bill immediately, he would slap a lien on my house. A lien, which is the right to take possession of my property until a debt is paid, would have made any sale of the home complicated. And a sale was exactly what I was considering if the plans fell through; it seemed like the only other way to increase our living space.

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t use any of my legendary consumer advocacy skills to fix this. In 2003, I was still getting my feet wet in the ombudsman racket. I probably had a slightly inflated sense of my abilities to resolve conflicts, and didn’t fully realize that the hardest cases to fix are the ones you’re involved in.

Mostly, I didn’t appreciate the weakness of my position. The architect seemed to have me over a barrel.

I decided an in-person visit might help him understand my position, so I paid him a visit the next day. He didn’t bother to get up to greet me when I came in the office. He just reclined in his oversized office chair, rocking back and forth. As I outlined my case, my mistakes became as obvious as his intransigence.

Mistakes were made

Had I bothered to vet the architect or ask around for references? No. I’d taken a single word-of-mouth referral from a neighbor I hardly knew. After the episode, I asked around, and it turned out this architect had a pattern of submitting useless plans and then browbeating customers into paying for them. He was a con artist with a degree.

Had I bothered to get the $1,500 quote in writing? No again. It was all done on a handshake. It was his associate’s billable time against my word. A small-claims court case to be sure, but who would the judge believe — a small business owner or a short-term resident like me?

Finally, I asked the architect whether he even cared if the plans were unbuildable.

“You can build it,” he assured me. “We’ll see to it.”

Something about the way he said that made it seem so illegal that I must have recoiled. Only a few days earlier, a permitting official had told me there was no way to build what I wanted. Ever. Who would the architect bribe?

I wanted no part of it. I paid the $3,000 and took the scrolls with me. I stored them in the attic and when I sold the house three months later to, of all people, an architect, I left the plans. For all I know, they’re still in the house, collecting dust.

A decade later, I wonder: How could I have been so stupid? The answer is complicated. I didn’t spend enough time on research, didn’t do my due diligence until it was too late, and was far too trusting. I placed my faith in the architecture degree hanging on the wall and I trusted my neighbor. I shouldn’t have.

My biggest mistake as a consumer was mine, and mine alone. It will never happen again. I’m telling it now so it doesn’t happen to you.

It’s your turn now. What are the biggest mistakes you’ve made, and what did you learn? The comments are open.

Do consumers learn from their mistakes?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • polexia_rogue

    so many to choose from…..

    when i was stationed overseas i was one of about a dozen or so airmen who had to go home and get their spouse. there was allot of talk about cheapoair as a site where we could get reasonable airfare to get back to the USA in a timely manner (if you try to fly free on a military plane you have to wait for days or even weeks- no way.)

    so i eagerly went to cheapoair as so many people suggested, an found my flight.
    frankfurt to prague,
    prague to new york
    new york to chicago
    chicago to milwakee
    milwakee to madison
    all on different airlines-
    but it was less then 1,000 dollars.

    each airline was worse then the last and i had to run massive distances between flights. except on new work where i accidentally gave myself a 12 hour layover, because i misread a time.
    try to get a different flight? – nope. my ticket was “owned” by Cezh rep air, so none of the other airlines could help, even if they wanted to.

    now i fly ONLY virgin. if there is a place virgin does not fly to i will rent a car, it will be more expensive but not nearly as painful.

    car rental-
    on base the car rental ladies are so nice. maybe they are told to be nice to the airmen, maybe the base pays for any damages.
    “go pick out any car!”
    “return it where ever you want.”

    but the ONE time i had to rent a car off base……like alot of you i said “no, i have my own insurance.” and of course they did no pre-rental inspection. when returnign the car they ripped me up one end down the other.
    “so how would you like to pay your massive bill?”

    I sure as heck didn’t want usaa to see this bill so i paid out of my savings- never again. now i always play their game and buy their insurance.

    -not sure if this counts as a consumer story but it sure felt like it. my German landlord was going to charge me 15,000 euros. i sure as f**k did not cause 15,000 euros worth of damage to my apartment.
    -they claimed that i used a bad floor cleaner so the floor would need to be ripped out and redone.
    -and the scratch on the wall where my couch was would have to be filled. (yes it was a big scratch but i have seen my dad fix a wall hole for less then 20 dollars.)

    the landlord’s reasoning was “if i charge you a smaller amount but the repair ends up costing my more i will have to sue the air force. ”

    i was out processing for a medical discharge, and my commander did not like me much to begin with but even he knew that if i had to come up with 15,000 euro i would simple NOT be able to out process. so he had several officers talk the land lord down to 8,000 which i borrowed from my parents.

    not sure what the lesson from that story is since i currently live in an apartment building owned by family (who i hope would never try to say i did 15,000 worth of damage.)

  • BillCCC

    I think that consumers do learn from their mistakes. The problem is that they make different mistakes each time and get scammed in a different way.

  • Cam

    Mine all involve booking non-refundable airfares. The worst case was about AUD$600.00. I guess it’s not really a scam, but I’m much more carefull about finalizing plans before booking.

    With scams, some people learn, some don’t.

  • Hanope

    Renting a townhouse from an individual. I had to pay 2 months deposit. Four years later when I wanted to move out, he claimed the damages were more than my deposit. I disagreed, at most the damages caused by me were $50 to repair a very small hole in the wall. After four years, he was going to have to repaint and recarpet anyway, I shouldn’t be charged for that, plus he was going to need to repaint due to a leak in the roof where water stained the ceiling. Mostly he was annoyed that I was not interested in buying the townhouse (this was just before the market crashed).

    After some research in landlord tenant law, I found out that after the first year, he was only supposed to keep one month’s worth of rent as a deposit and return the extra. I had to file a small claims suit against him to get any of my deposit back. It took more than six months to get a hearing date, which I had to take a day off work. At the hearing, he finally coughed up the extra month’s deposit, but I still lost a whole month’s worth of deposit, plus the extra costs I incurred for the suit. Still better than letting him keep the extra $1,500.

  • Jeff Kolker

    And there are always new, and “uninitiated” consumers for the scammer to target next.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Ah, here’s my tale…
    When I was but a young bird, still in college, and just out of the nest, a “friend” approached me with the invitation to join a Barter Group. These were the “Groupons” of the mid to late 90s, I guess.

    Anyway, I paid my $100 application fee–quite a hefty sum for a bird eating worms from a can each night–but alas, I was invited! I was going to get a great return on this! I would be able to use the Barter Group to book hotels at a super discounted rate, get 5% off gas purchases, 10% off electronics…as long as I held up my end of the barter.

    And my end of the barter was supposed to be me, working for free, three hours a week answering customer service emails for a firm that did so when the internet was in version 1.0 and such services were sources to outside companies. These hours of work would be converted into 200 Barter Tokens per hour, for a total of 600 per week. In order to be an “active” member of the Barter Group, you had to maintain 100 Barter Tokens per week. No sweat, I thought.

    I eagerly showed up at the location where I was to work, only to find a beat up machine barely running Windows 3.1 and an acoustic coupler modem. Yeah. That old.

    I followed the instructions, answering the emails with the guidelines provided, and awaited for the “Barter Hours” to show up on my account. But alas, they never did that week. My friend assured me they had been recorded–after all, I wasn’t the only person there–and I continued to show up for work for the next two weeks.

    But when the Tokens were posted, I had only earned 76, for all three weeks! I questioned this and was told that the company I was free-working for was only awarding two tokens per email answered! That wasn’t what I agreed to, but of course, nothing in writing, all with a nod and a handshake…

    I walked away from this at that point. My “friend” was upset and told me I could get more tokens by recruiting more people or paying a monthly fee. Ponzi, much?

    From this I learned:
    1. Don’t throw good money and time after bad. I lost the $100 and some free time, but it could’ve been worse.

    2. Friends who “invite” you into business opportunities probably aren’t really friends.

    3. Never, ever, work for free unless it’s volunteering for a cause.

    4. Report thieves like this to the Attorney General’s Office. It was kind of a hassle, but I felt vindicated afterwards.

    5. Get everything in writing.

    6. If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.

  • Miami510

    I wanted to vote “yes” and “no” at the same time, because Barnum, of circus fame, once said, “There’s a sucker born every day,” and Edmund Burke, the English politician said, “Those
    who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

    Part-time outsiders who want to negotiate in a rural area with the natives (and these are usually seasonal, vacation areas) have to have eyes in the back of their head… and sometimes there’s no viable option to playing the local’s game.

    I wanted to build a vacation home on a lovely island and hired a first-class, experienced architect.
    We tried to get the plans approved by the historical district commission. They kept finding fault with every attempt, even though there were many existing examples of the very items for which they turned us down.

    Each attempt meant flying the architect and I or my wife to the monthly meetings, and this was very expensive. Finally, someone gave me the advice to hire a local architect. I did and the original plans were approved at the next commission meeting. They approved the plans with all the items they objected to at prior meetings. Getting the plans approved cost many thousands.

    I learned two things:
    First, deal with the locals. They have a million ways to protect their turf. Second: Unless you happen to have unlimited funds and very specific-atypical tastes, don’t build. Somewhere in the area you’re looking at is a home, already built, with which you will be happy. There are two advantages: you see what you’re getting in situ, and you know what it’s going to cost.

  • Travel Girl

    Our one and only scam cost us our house. A church friend (mistake one) of my husband’s told him about a great way to get around paying so much IRS tax (mistake two). All we had to do was buy the rights to this great 1950’s record (mistake 3), then declare it as an investment to the IRS (mistake 4), and thus pay no taxes (mistake 5). Because it was a 25 year friend(mistake 6) from church, we said yes. (mistake 6) Of course a year later the IRS sent us a bill for nearly $80,000 and 30 days to pay or go to jail. Church friend claimed he was innocent (mistake 7) so we had to clearance sale our beautiful house in order to come up with the money. A few months later, this scam was profiled on “60 Minutes” but by that time there was nothing we could do but learn and go on. We still have the record.

  • Extramail

    I made the mistake of using the home inspector recommended by my realtor who was also a friend. I will say that he was also recommended by the neighbors of the house in question. Of course, the home inspector “missed” several things that should have been available for discussion before purchasing the home. Ultimately, the necessary repairs cost me close to $5000 but my husband wouldn’t let me go back on the realtor and i couldnt on the home inspector (magical disclaimer included in the contract that he wasn’t accountable for anything missed) because the wife of the realtor had become a necessary business client. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had issues with “home inspectors” and I’m not sure how I feel about using one in the future.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Exactly. Plenty of people learn but there’s always plenty of new marks for the con men.

  • NakedEye

    Yep, ditto on the house inspector. I learned that I should pick out the inspector myself after researching, and also get someone to do a $300 inspection of sewer lines of a house (and not included in an “home inspector’s” inspection will save me $$$ in the end. Also, my realtor was a friend of a friend…never ever again will I use a realtor chosen only because a friend recommends them.

  • Jeff Kolker

    As an accountant, I am somewhat curious as to how “investing” in a record could result in an $80000 tax bill.

  • Nikki

    My fiance and I thought that going with a “buy from owner” home would be a good fit for a first-time buyer… we went with a home inspector that the (now-)former owner suggested and it’s costing my fiance more $$ than either of us ever imagined. Various leaks in the roof equaled a replacement costing $25000, not to mention the plumbing system in this old house is going to cost more than a bit of cash because there seems to be a tree root taking residence somewhere in the main line.

    I’m starting to think I might have better chances winning the lottery, but either way… we’re choosing the home inspector if we ever buy another house, even if the seller is a nice family-oriented church-going fellow (which is what had both of us solidly into buying the house – – – the guy kept bringing up church-oriented trips out of town, staying in touch with his family, etc).

  • Christopher Elliott

    Thank you for sharing your stories. I feel like I’m in good company.

  • Nikki

    Oh! – well, this one isn’t house-related, but it can serve as a warning of sorts… I once knew a kid that sold lobsters near our home in Oceanside, CA – – he would offer one heck of a deal on lobsters… open his cooler for an unsuspecting customer… and then make off quickly with the money while the poor sap found out he just purchased a lobster filled with sand.

    Yeah yeah, buyer beware and all… but don’t purchase a lobster till you know it’s not filled with sand! lol

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Curious, how exactly did the friend profit from this deal? Was he the one you bought the rights to this record from?

    Also, the IRS typically takes installments. That may well have been preferable to fire selling a house in 30 days to come up with the full amount.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Now, that’s funny!

  • Raven_Altosk

    Yeah, anything involving Cheating the Tax Man is not going to end well, bro.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I’ll tell you another story, this time involving my GF…

    She uses a Niteguard, which is piece of plastic to keep her from grinding her teeth in her sleep and causing horrible jaw pain. When we moved, it broke, so she quickly referred to her insurance listing for a new dentist.

    At the top of the list of was Monarch Dental (yes, I am naming names here). She called, made an appointment, and was kind of surprised when they could see a brand new patient, same day for a non-emergency.

    Clue #2 that they weren’t on the up-and-up was that they were located in a dilapidated strip mall.

    She went in, had the mold taken, and was THEN told she had to pay a $350 fitting fee, but that this would be reimbursed by her insurance. (Insurance–at the time, God knows now with the new law– did cover all of this minus a $15 copay)

    So, GF forks over the $350 in the form of a check because oh, their credit card machine is down!

    Niteguard comes in, she picks it up, we send the insurance the paperwork and they paid the dentist for the guard, the mold, AND the $350 she had already paid as a fitting fee.

    Insurance said, “It was on their bill, so no, we won’t pay you” despite my protest that we have a canceled check for it.

    We went back and forth with Monarch Dental, who claimed that the $350 my GF paid was NOT included…when it was, and they had been paid twice.

    GF went in there personally with all of the paperwork, showed the supposed office manager, who admitted they made an error but claimed the ONLY person who signs checks was out sick. Yeah, right.

    Then the lies started. The person who writes checks had surgery/a death in the family/was on vacation. I told them I didn’t need a check, cash would be fine. They of course did not have cash on hand for this. Nor did they have an answer when I asked how they remained in business if only ONE PERSON can write checks and she’s never there.

    The lies were so comical, when I called one last time, I said, “So, tell me who in the only person who can write check’s family died now…because so far we’re up to two grandmothers.”

    They hung up on me.
    Bad move.

    I did some digging (took some serious effort) to find out that Monarch Dental is owned by Castle Dental, which is owned by another company. I sent a nasty demand for payment letter to them, documenting all of the garbage that was going on and basically accusing them of theft. I sent one to the corporate office and another to the actual office, addressed to the dentist herself.

    I asked for the $350 to be paid immediately or I would file a case in small claims court for the $350 plus pre-judgment statutory interest and I would contact the state attorney general’s office to report insurance fraud.

    Guess what?
    We got a check for $350 overnighted to us from the corporate office with a profuse apology letter.

  • Charles B

    I found my house 12 years ago at the stage when the frame was up and the roof was on it, but not much else was completed. I got to work with the builder one adding custom features. Yeah. I spent at least $15k in upgrades that were never reflected in the final value of the house. If anything, they raised the value of the house to the selling price, so they didn’t have to spend any of their own money to justify the price to the mortgage bankers. (Unlike my next door neighbor, whose finished house by the same builder was appraised at $10k under the mortgage price.)

    Also, the plan for the house is clearly four bedrooms. The realtor “mistakenly” was selling the house as a three bedroom. “It was just a typo in the listing.” The builder had removed the closet from the fourth bedroom “to make more room for the adjoining bath.” I had them put a closet back in that room. I found out a couple years later, when dealing with the septic field, that the house was three bedroom because the septic wasn’t big enough to support four. Funny how they never mentioned that detail.

  • MarkKelling

    Yep, they made a whole TV show about fixing things the inspectors missed. Scared me into not wanting to ever buy another home ever again.

  • Travel Girl

    I’m definitely NOT an accountant or probably would have known better, but apparently we were supposed to with hold all taxes and file via this “investment”. I know, it makes no sense to me now, but 30 years ago it made perfect sense. The 80K was all the back taxes, penalties and interest. This was the mastermind:

  • Travel Girl

    The friend said he didn’t profit and that he got “caught” too resulting in his filing bankruptcy although since we stopped being friends we never verified it. We didn’t buy anything from him. Yes we could have made installment payments but the interest would have doubled our bill and since we were on the verge on a divorce over this, we decided to sell the house, pay the bill, and move on. It turned out to be the correct route as we’re still married 30 years later.

  • Travel Girl

    You are so right but it’s amazing how the investment man made it sound like a good idea and not cheating at all. We were so naïve.

  • omgstfualready

    Yep, mine is real estate too. I’m in a HOA and never thought to get the details of the makeup of the board. The builder is still on the board after 7 years (retained ownership in a number of homes which he rents out). Which now I know means he’s been artifically keeping the monthly dues low to sell more units. And appears to not approve a reasonable annual budget so we’re over each year and drawing from reserves. And he’s not paying the monthly fee on the units he owns himself. We need a ton of work done on the older units and don’t have the funds to do it. Eventually that will be my home too. If things don’t change shortly I will have to move to be sure I get out before my place starts to fall apart.

  • DavidYoung2

    Never mess with the IRS. Not because they are necessarily evil, but:

    1) They go by the book and have limited flexibility to negotiate (despite the ads on TV saying you can settle for 10 cents on the dollar – you can’t);
    2) They have the resources to chase you down;
    3) They’re actually pretty smart, so BS’ing them is a bad idea;
    4) The law is on their side;
    5) Most importantly, they have patience. They will never give up and they will never go away. Kind of like toenail fungus…..

    Two years ago I got audited and they dinged me for about $7,000. Looked over the issue carefully, considered my options, talked to a tax attorney friend of mine. Fighting with them would take untold hours of my life, probably cost more than $7,000 in fees, keep the ‘penalties and interest’ meter running and have a 50/50 chance of success. Sent a check..

  • omgstfualready

    Thanks for sharing yours. Nice to know you’re as human as the rest of us (sadly).

  • Mark Cuban

    The same scams work over and over and over again because people are greedy. They’re always trying to make or save a buck, even when presented with unreasonable conditions. Your neighbor knew someone who had “connections”? Really? What part about that sounded legit? All of the stories here have the same theme – you think you’re getting over on something.

    And yes I’ve been burned too. Greed and laziness.

  • DavidYoung2

    My guess is they were partners or unit holders in some leveraged investment in record rights which threw off depreciation deductions from inflated record rights purchases. They used the depreciation deductions as trade or business deductions to shield wage income, then the whole thing got slammed a scam. Could be before the IRC 469 passive activity loss rules and the non-recourse debt rules, but who knows.

  • Mark Cuban

    “… a great way to get around paying so much IRS tax .”

    You seriously entertained this????

  • Judealou

    Also agree. Home inspector was a complete waste of money. We also relied upon our realtor-friend’s recommendation. Contract specified we could only get back inspection fee, not cost of repairs, which included the living room ceiling, which fell in from a 2nd floor leaking toilet he missed; heat runs in the basement, which were absent; and most recently a new ROOF at substantial cost. If I ever buy another house I’ll hire a trusted builder to go through it with us.

  • Charles

    I have NEVER seen a home inspection that was any good. I didn’t bother with our house. I know enough to inspect myself. Had a friend buy a house and the inspector said it had been completely rewired. In fact, only some of the basement had been rewired. The rest of the house was knob and tube writing and there was clearly evidence of a past fire. He missed crumbling foundation walls, out-gassing insulation, serious settling damage, plaster held on only by wallpaper, and lots more. It’s an industry that desperately needs regulation and bonding.

  • Hanope

    Yes, home inspectors miss a lot of things and are usually lawsuit proof due to their contracts and/or state laws. Its also almost always the first time homebuyer who gets whammied because they don’t know about the inspection process, don’t know any inspectors, and have a very short amount of time to locate one. About the only time an inspector may be worthwhile is if you are getting a Veterans Loan and there are strict federal requirements before the loan is granted (and the VA Dept has their own list of approved inspectors).

    However, I know that bad inspections have never stopped some people from still filing suits against the inspectors, sellers, and all involved real estate agents. Even if there are good defenses, most of the time, the defendants (i.e. their insurance carriers) will still cough up a cost of defense settlement, which at least helps cover any necessary repair costs. YMMV depending on state laws.

  • John Baker

    Not to mention the big one … If you take them to court, you have the burden of proof and not the IRS. The only place I’m aware of in the US Judicial System where you’re considered guilty until you prove your innocence

  • Beverly Walker

    We had a drywall company. We bought and put up drywall in a 3-story house. The contractor refused to pay us. We took him to court and the judge ruled that he commited no crime. If he had shoplifted, it would have been a crime. It was for SERVICES, and that was no crime. We found he had everything in his wife’s name . . . house, truck, everything. Cost us a cool $16,000. Never worked with a contractor again, needless to say.

  • Hanope

    Wow, did your judge confuse civil court with criminal court and you, as plaintiff, with a prosecutor? Course, given the assets were all in the wife’s name, any judgment might have been unrecoverable anyway. Couldn’t you have filed a mechanics lien?

  • DavidYoung2

    It’s interesting, but actually you’re NOT considered guilty. The burden of proof, however, is on the taxpayer.

    The reason is that the TAXPAYER prepares the return, so the TAXPAYER has the obligation to prove what they swore is correct is, actually, correct. Since the taxpayer puts the numbers down, the taxpayer has the burden of proof. And logically, the IRS could rarely prove something is not correct. Remember, it’s really difficult to ‘prove a negative.’ How can you ‘prove’ UFOs don’t exist? How can you ‘prove’ the taxpayer didn’t donate $100,000 in gold coins to the Goodwill?

  • ExplorationTravMag

    A hard lesson learned, to be sure, but we had something similar happen to us when we were PCSing out of Germany. We took it to the housing office and let them and legal deal with it. Funny how a landlord being told, “This seems fraudulent and we think we’ll have to put you on our blacklist AND remove all your listings from our preferred listings.” to get a landlord to say, “Oh, okay, no problem.”

    Taking this to the legal office would have cleared it up in an afternoon and it wouldn’t have cost you a nickel.

    But, you did the best you could in a really, really difficult situation and no one can fault you for that. Landlords try to scam the military all the time. It’s almost as if it’s in some kind of rule book.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    It’s the “church-going fellows” who scare the crap out of me. A friend of mine used a “church- going fellow” to install a whole security system in their home, including cameras, etc. The guy got halfway through the job and disappeared on them, taking all the money they’d paid in advance (he asked for full payment because he needed to “pay some bills, too”). She refused to contact the authorities because they went to church together and she didn’t want to cause bad feelings. Really? He stole your money! That, alone, causes ME to have “bad feelings”!

    It makes me wonder just “what” is being taught in these churches?

  • Beverly Walker

    He had a shyster lawyer and we didn’t even bother to get one as we were so sure we would win, justice would be served, he would give us a “good” check, etc. We were so sick, physically and mentally, we just went home and tried to forget it. Never have been able to, of course!

  • Bettina

    May I say that landlord like to scam tenants all the time, not only military tenants.

    First, you need to photograph the place before you even move in.

    Then, you need to fix those little things yourself before you move out, like that scratch in the wall.

    Then, let legal deal with it, if they still give you grief.

  • Justin

    Sometimes we all want the best, only to find the worst. You were caught at a moment of weakness and the scammer read you like a book.

    Too bad you didn’t fight a better fight. However, the hard knock lessons are the one’s we shall never repeat. I’ve been there myself, and by God, I’ll never make those mistakes twice.

  • SallyLu

    I have heard so many horror stories about HOAs! We’ve recently been thinking of moving and my first criteria for a new neighborhood is no HOA!

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Okay, maybe not my biggest mistake, but an entertaining one, especially if you know anything about cars (which I did not, at the time). This happened 34 years ago, before today’s marvelous Age of Google.

    My beater car wouldn’t start reliably. I thought it was a dying battery and brought it to a “reliable” mechanic that a neighbor had recommended. The mechanic opened the hood and had me watch as he touched his screwdriver to the alternator. It sparked! Ooh, ahh! He said it was a bad alternator because it sparked and was too dangerous to drive anywhere. $150 later, I drove it home.

    A couple months later, I ended up getting a new battery, which was all that the car really needed. $150 back then was a month’s rent, so I really was screwed royally. My next book purchase was a Reader’s Digest set of books on car repair and maintenance.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    It was imprudent, but don’t feel bad. One of the reasons why scammers target churches is because, like any other social organization, its members tend to engender very high levels of trust towards each other, and critical reasoning skills are not always appreciated when dealing with other members.

  • omgstfualready

    It depends. The state I’m in has few laws protecting us from the builder and a bad board. Florida has very strong laws. New development pains is what I’m living in. But when my neighbor had a disgusting broken car in parts in their drive for a few weeks we were able to force them to take it away.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The let anyone into church. It doesn’t necessarily make them a good person, as I’ve learned the hard way.

  • Carver Clark Farrow


  • dave3029

    Can’t remember who said it, but going to church doesn’t make you a good person any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

  • dave3029

    Small Claims court must work different in your area than mine – – any costs associated with the suit are able to be added into the amount being sued for, up to the maximum amount allowed (currently $2000) and collected as part of the judgement, plus we are able to charge simple interest of 10% annually on the principle until the entire debt is paid.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    nice :)

  • Robert Karpel

    When I was just out of college I wanted to save some money for a house. A high school friend turned insurance agent convinced me to buy what turned out to be a whole life policy. He told me that it was like a bank account – all money I put in would be earning 6% interest and I could withdraw principal and interest at any time. The insurance company would be investing elsewhere for more and would use the difference to pay for a $40,000 life insurance policy for me as a bonus for me. It took me a while but luckily I was only contributing $40 per month – I cancelled after a couple of years at a loss of $600 of what I had put in (not including this “interest”). It wasn’t cheap but it did teach me a couple of valuable lessons: (1) do not invest in life insurance; and (2) take anything your life insurance agent says with a grain of salt because at the end of the day their interest is in making money for themselves. This was over 20 years ago and I haven’t spoken with the “friend” since.

  • Robert Karpel

    What was the ’50s record, and do you know the “60 Minutes” show that profiled this scam? Or at least the year?


    Back in my 20s I took my car to a mechanic recommended by a colleague. The car had been running a bit hot and I wanted the coolant checked and changed if need be. Instead I was told there was a hole in my radiator and it had to be repaired. My naïve self agreed to that and I paid a bloody fortune. Took months to pay it off. Turned on the news one night and saw this particular shop featured for scamming customers. The biggest scam they ran? Puncturing people’s radiators so that they had to be replaced. Since then I have taken a basic car maintenance course and go only to established mechanics whose work I can check with multiple patrons.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Not that it matters now, but if you’re friend didn’t go to jail, I’m inclined to believe that he was just a dupe as well.

  • Helio

    I bought a 10-years old apartment, and I hired an architect to handle the renovation. My brother indicated her; she did four nice works for his company.

    She suggested the contractor, I agreed with him. The renovation was expected to last 4 months, but about 3 months later, my feelings were that less than 20~30% was done. In the middle of my demands for explanations about the delay, and not so good explanations, she sent me a list of outlets and light switches to buy (about 70 pieces). I found the list was incomplete and wrong, because she didn’t add dimmers, there was a lot of unnecessary telephone plugs, etc. In the weekend, I was to the apartment to count it. Well, to short this part of the tale, I found I’d need 110 pieces. I sent a not so polite message to her, asking if she didn’t learn how to count in the school, because a 5%~10% error was acceptable, but a 50% error wasn’t. She resign, big deal, I paid her more than the executed work, but OK.

    Of course, I kept the contractor… 6 months later, he promised me that I’ll be able to move next week, and schedule a meeting to check the works. Of course he did not show up (when we called him he told he wasn’t able to go to the meeting), and of course there was a lot of work to be done. My wife called him again, and told him he was fired. He said OK, just pay the balance. She declined, because he didn’t finish the work, and not so nice words were exchanged (she has a very colorful vocabulary when necessary). We took notes of all things needed to be done, and when we departure, half-hour later, he was waiting us at the gate. He told us he would sue us for breach of contract, that he recorded all call with my wife, and we will have troubles.

    We went to a police station, and the officer told us to file a threat report (I don’t know the correct terms in English, sorry). According to what he explained me, if I decide to pursue it further, I’ll need to present it to the court.

    I sent the report for the contractor and the architect, telling her that because she indicated him to me, if I decide to pursue the threat claim, she will be involved too. The guy sent his resignation letter few days later, stating that we own nothing to him. However, I lost a lot of money anyway – the new people I hired to finish the job, the extra renting and penalties I paid for the owner of the house, which I was living, etc. During several years, my wife regretted of not suing the contractor and the architect.

  • BMG4ME

    Glad it’s not just me, I did almost exactly the same as you when I had a basement finished in our previous home. Thankfully I was able to get a permit and CofO eventually, with some extra money and a lot of help from G-d, quite simply put.