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Is this proposed business transaction a scam?
August 27, 2013 8:17 PM   Subscribe

My sister was contacted by a Texas company to perform cleaning services for recently vacated, corporate-provided apartments. These apartments are in a capital city in Western Canada - this is where she and I live. While there is more inside, in a nutshell, my question is: why is a Texas company hiring an inexperienced new one-woman cleaning business for this, instead of a local cleaning chain? Because it's a scam, right? Please help me figure this out.

These are moving-out kinds of cleanings - preparing the suites for new workers I suppose. The previous residents are supposed to have done a clean up themselves before my sister arrives. They are going to pay her $45 per suite (for one hour of cleaning, supposedly). My sister does not care that suites might take longer. She needs the money. She'll do 18 suites in one building and 30 in another, over the course of three or so days.

Things that give me and my family the jeebies:

Big red flag: The company wanted her to photocopy and fax them a of her ID (driver's license). When she asked them, they said that she could black out everything except her picture, name and address. She figures an identity cannot be stolen with such little information. Me, I don't know.

The owner of the buildings seems local to Canada and seems legit. They have a 1-800 number posted for interested renters. Why wouldn't the owners of the building arrange for the cleaning? Wouldn't that make more sense? It would at least make me more comfortable.

The Texas company does not have a website; it has a FaceBook page with 7 likes and a linked-in account. My sister has only ever talked to company representatives on the phone.

The Texas company wants before and after pics (this seems fine). They will send a cheque in the mail after the work is done. This does not quite feel fine. Although, how else could they do it?

My sister never said anything about a contract. If there was one, which country/state/province jurisdiction would it fall under?

She is going to meet a Texas-company representative on-site immediately before the cleaning. They are going to provide the keys. Why wouldn't the building managers just provide the keys if this is perfectly legit?

What's going on here, and what is the worst case senario? If the worst is that they are going to pay her too little for the actual volume of work she ends up doing (picture apartment smeared with excrement, I don't know)? If so, she doesn't care. But is she facing not getting paid at all, or worse, identity theft?
posted by kitcat to Work & Money (19 answers total)
 
I don't know if it's ok to provide the company names for the Texas company or the company that owns the apartment buildings, so I haven't.
posted by kitcat at 8:20 PM on August 27, 2013


why is a Texas company hiring an inexperienced new one-woman cleaning business for this

How did they find her? What is this TX company's relationship to the building - are they the owners, or the employers of the people who occupy the building?

The scam part would be she cleans the suites and they don't pay her. Are they writing her a check in Canadian or US dollars? From an account in the US, or Canada?

This sounds weird, and I wouldn't take the gig. Too many questions.
posted by rtha at 8:34 PM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Was your sister contacted by email? Can she take a phrase from the email and Google it? I tried Googling "apartment cleaning scam" and it seems quite common, often framed as an overpayment scam. None seem similar to cleaning a whole apartment building though. See this AskMe.

Can you check with a Texas Better Business Bureau or the attorney general?

It doesn't take much information to impersonate someone (having been impersonated once), so I would not be so keen to scan a driver's licence.

I agree, this does sound scammy. It's possible that they picked a random apartment building to make it sound more legitimate. I live in a large Western Canadian city, and I imagine that a building would hire someone like ServPro.

I have cashed US checks at the bank before, but it's been a while. Huh! My curiosity is piqued, good on you for posting.
posted by Calzephyr at 8:35 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best case scenario: the management company took bids for the cleanup job. The Texas company's bid was accepted, because it was the lowest. Now the Texas company is trying to figure out how to fulfill the terms of the contract and still make a profit, so they're subcontracting out the job to people like your sister, who will do the work cheaply, and the Texas company will pocket the difference.

Worst case scenario: "They will send a cheque in the mail after the work is done." WTF is with that? This is where the scam probably comes in. Otherwise, the guy who hands her the keys would probably be the one to cut her the check after the job is done, no?

I think the worst case scenario is more likely because of the lack of on-site representatives from the company and the sketchy payment terms. The management company should know all about this, shouldn't it? A few calls to the management company should reveal what's going on, I think.
posted by deanc at 8:41 PM on August 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sorry, this was in my draft: they found her via her ad in Kijiji. I think this is how it works - a big company needs to temporarily relocate some workers to our city. Texas company does some convenience work in setting them up - making sure apartment is clean, arranging cable hook-ups, etc. I wonder if Texas company arranges to rent out the suites from the apartment building company.

Seeing the buildings on the apartment-owner company, they are recongnizably, googlably real. I have never heard of an overpayment scam - thanks for this.
posted by kitcat at 8:43 PM on August 27, 2013


The lack of contract would concern me. Checking with the building managers might flesh out some details.
posted by arcticseal at 8:47 PM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


The link Calzephyr provided above to another AskMe pretty much answers my question, I think. But comments and other thoughts are most welcome. I will be passing this info to my sister. Thank you very much.
posted by kitcat at 8:54 PM on August 27, 2013


If the purported business doesn't come up in search of Texas taxable entities, it's likely a scam. If it does, that doesn't mean it's not a scam, but at least it gives your sister a little more information to go on about finding out who she's (supposedly) dealing with.
posted by wierdo at 9:21 PM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


This should not just be done over the phone as a handshake deal. She should insist that they send her a proposal with terms, including her fee and the payment schedule. The proposal needs to be on a letterhead or suitably professional form, and she should research them once the proposal arrives. She should talk with the building manager, too, if she's still feeling antsy. And I don't think there's anything wrong with her leveling with them about her misgivings, saying "I'm having trouble being comfortable with this proposal until I have more assurance that your firm is legitimate." THEY are demanding that she prove she's legit by faxing her drivers license; if they balk at her request that they establish their legitimacy, then screw 'em, walk away.
posted by Unified Theory at 9:45 PM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


She should ask for a contract and a letter from the building owner authorizing the work.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:04 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


If this were legit, this is what I'd think was happening.

A western canadian captial? Well, if it is Edmonton, I'd assume the TX company is in somehow involved in the oil business, probably oil services, and is contracted to provide workers in Alberta's oil industry. Either that, or they are specialized in providing services to companies that need to temporarily relocate workers for projects (happens a lot, not just in the oil industry, but in construction, particularly of specialized facilities) They are renting apartments and furnishing them to the workers. When the workers finish their stint, the company hires someone to clean up the apartment, either for the next contingent of workers, or so they can get their cleaning deposit back from the apartment owners/managers.

They hire someone else to do the job because the workers are probably young, and male, and don't have standards of move-out cleanliness that will past muster with apartment managers. They don't want the apartment managers to do the cleaning because apartment managers aren't in the cleaning business and will surely take more out of the cleaning deposit that it would cost to pay someone directly.

As to why they'd hire your sister, they figure a small independent cleaning business is going to have lower overhead, lower prices, and won't drive as hard a bargain.

My guess would be that the company would try to have someone on the ground "in country" shortly before and after workers are rotated in and out to make sure things go smoothly, but not otherwise, unless they are performing other functions.

Or it could all be bullshit, I don't know, but isn't completely fishy.
posted by Good Brain at 10:14 PM on August 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


She is going to meet a Texas-company representative on-site immediately before the cleaning. They are going to provide the keys. Why wouldn't the building managers just provide the keys if this is perfectly legit?

This deal sounds odd enough to me that I would be concerned about my personal safety. Do you have any more details about the meet up -- can she ensure she won't be alone with the company representative in a suite or in a parking lot?

also, what Ironmouth said.
posted by marguerite at 10:56 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Having dealt with scum like this before, my guess is that the rental company is scamming their tenants on move-out cleanings. Your sister works and gets paid for x hours by the Texas company. Tenant gets charged for x*2 (or more, depending on the landlord's greed). Tenant has a problem? Face collections or try to sue a company in a different country. Most people grit their teeth and pay up.
posted by SakuraK at 11:33 PM on August 27, 2013


They have to give her keys, so they are at risk, as well, She should ask for a purchase order#, which is how many companies authorize payment, or a letter stating the terms. In the US, they would want her SSN(gov't ID #), because they should report the payment to the tax authorities. It's kind of odd, so she could ask a friend to accompany her and help her clean, and split the proceeds, if she's nervous.
posted by theora55 at 12:40 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suggest contacting the building owners to ask if they have any connection with this Texan company --- maybe the Texan company rents blocks of these corporate apartments for their employees, maybe the Canadian building owners hired a Texas management company to handle the day-to-day operations of the building.

But yeah, this hits my scam-meter too. It could be an overpayment scam (we owe you $100, but send you a check for $300 and tell you to cash it and just send us back the excess; check bounces, you're out the whole $300 but you've already sent us $200 so we're happy and we disappear); but there are also various real estate-connected scams. One of these is to rent apartments or houses that the company doesn't actually have a legal right to: they collect the first months' rent plus deposit, the renter/victim goes to move in and discovers there's already someone living there, the 'real estate agent' has already disappeared with the money.
posted by easily confused at 2:46 AM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I might be misreading your question, but:

Other than the scam aspect of this (and I wouldn't trust this either): you're talking about 48 apartments, possibly an hour each but very possibly longer, and a periode of 3 days. Is your sister sure this is realistic to take on? That's an insane number of hours in a short period of time, and if each apartment takes 1,5 hours, she'll be cleaning for three days non stop.

If they know she's a one woman business, this must have crossed their minds as well. Is there anything in the contract about what happens (fines?) if she doesn't deliver?
posted by Ms. Next at 3:33 AM on August 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Smells kind of fishy to me. Contact the building's owner (the phone number listed on the building might only be a real estate agent handling the rental) and ask if they've hired the Texas company to do the cleaning.

Even if they have, that does not mean the Texas company isn't scamming the people they hire. They're sending a check? Will it be drawn on a US or Canadian bank?

Do some basic research using Google for the name of the Texas company, along with "scam" or "apartment cleaning scam." Show your sister what you find. The thing that makes me incredibly wary is that the company's only online presence appears to be a Facebook page covered with the online equivalent of tumbleweeds.

I'd think it would be far preferable in your case to deal with a cleaning company in (insert the name of your province here) or even (insert the name of your Western Canadian Provincial Capital here). That way it's much easier to chase them down in legal matters if necessary.
posted by tckma at 8:38 AM on August 28, 2013


I actually agree with good brain's take on this. I think there's a very high likelihood that this is legit -- and I think they ARE trying to hire your sister because the established, bigger companies would charge much more -- but I still think she needs to be firm in insisting on assurances.
posted by Unified Theory at 9:36 AM on August 28, 2013


why is a Texas company hiring an inexperienced new one-woman cleaning business for this, instead of a local cleaning chain?
Probably because your sister is much cheaper. You should do some research to find out what the competition is charging, but it sounds to me that your sister is probably charging a low price. It's also possible they didn't like their previous contractor, and are trying new ones out.

My sister never said anything about a contract. If there was one, which country/state/province jurisdiction would it fall under?
This a a question for your sister's lawyer. At some point if she's running a business she'll need one.

What's going on here, and what is the worst case senario? If the worst is that they are going to pay her too little for the actual volume of work she ends up doing (picture apartment smeared with excrement, I don't know)? If so, she doesn't care. But is she facing not getting paid at all, or worse, identity theft?

Not getting paid, or paid too little, is always a risk in business. Even when dealing with legitimate businesses. This is where a having a lawyer helps.

One thing she could do, is to ask for a deposit for large jobs.
posted by fruit sandwich at 10:15 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


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